Study: How old is too old for surgery?

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Short and long-term outcomes for elderly patients are good, says study featuring Strathfield Private patients

Life expectancy is on an upward trajectory in Australia — the 80-plus age group is the fastest growing segment of our population. A lot of the credit for this goes to medical advancements and innovative surgical procedures that provide a quality of life that could only be dreamt of a few decades ago.

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Olga Salmond, 90, has had two surgeries at Strathfield Private and is delighted with the results

Strathfield Private Cardiothoracic Surgeon Professor Michael Vallely says the number of cardiac surgery patients in the 80-plus age bracket has increased 24 times over the last 20 years. He cited a recent study printed in the international Heart Lung and Circulation journal.

The study, which included Strathfield Private patients, found that both short and long-term outcomes for potentially high-risk, elderly patients were excellent. “Unfortunately, patients are sometimes denied cardiac surgery or not referred for such surgery if they are over a certain age,” he says.

The study included 1,135 patients who underwent heart surgery in three hospitals — Strathfield Private, Royal North Shore and Royal Prince Alfred. It was found that 30-day survival rate for high-risk heart surgery patients aged 70-79 was greater than 98 per cent; it was 97 per cent for the 80-90 group.

Strathfield Private witnesses a fair number of surgeries on elderly people. Olga Salmond, 90 years old this year, had an Anterior Minimally Invasive Surgery (AMIS) on her hip at Strathfield Private in 2014, followed by a mitral valve heart surgery a few years ago. Ms Salmond says she is delighted with the results and is now walking 2km a day.

However, increased longevity brings with it a dilemma many doctors and patients face — how old is too old for surgery? Well, going by the results of the study, there really is no age barrier for surgery. “Every referral to a unit with an interest in the management of structural heart disease in the elderly gives older patients a better chance of being offered appropriate intervention,” says Professor Vallely.

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