Post-Surgical Complications Linked to Risk of Falls Among Older Patients

The findings of a new study suggest that doctors should more carefully look at an elderly patient’s history of falls to help determine surgical health risks.  

Researchers from the University of Colorado and the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center published a study earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that found that examining how often an elderly patient has suffered falls before surgery may help predict their risk of experiencing problems afterwards. Such falls are common enough in later years to qualify as a geriatric syndrome, according to the researchers.

The study looked at patients 65 and older undergoing elective colorectal and cardiac operations at a referral medical center. There were 235 subjects in all.

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The findings suggest that a history of one or more falls during the six months before an operation was associated with an increased risk of complications after surgery. It also indicated an increased the risk that an individual needed to be placed in a nursing home or physical rehabilitation center after surgery, and increased the odds the patient would be hospitalized again in the next month.

“More than one-third of all inpatient operations in the United States are performed on patients aged 65 years and older, a proportion which will increase during the next several decades,” researchers noted in their conclusions. “Existing preoperative risk assessment strategies are not adequate to meet the needs of the aging population.”

The researchers call for assessments similar to those required by nursing homes, which must evaluate every resident’s fall risk. When facilities fail to do so, it may be the basis for a nursing home negligence lawsuit if a resident suffers an injury. However, the assessments proposed for hospitals would look at the various health risks after surgery brought on by falls before the surgery was performed, whereas nursing homes must look at the risk of potential future falls.

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