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Keywords:

  • elderly;
  • surgery;
  • outcomes;
  • morbidity;
  • mortality

Objectives: To gather information about surgical outcomes for patients in their 80s and 90s.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.

Participants: Patients (26,648 aged ≥80; 568,263 aged <80) enrolled in the Veterans Affairs National Surgical Quality Improvement Project (NSQIP) who had noncardiac surgery between 1991 and 1999.

Methods: Data were collected prospectively from medical records and healthcare providers. Detailed information was collected about patients' preoperative status, intraoperative experience, and postoperative outcomes. Postoperative outcomes were survival status at 30 days (deaths from any cause occurring during hospitalization and after hospital discharge were captured) and the occurrence of 21 selected surgical complications within 30 days postoperatively: wound complications (3 types), respiratory complications (4), urinary tract complications (3), nervous system complications (3), cardiac complications (3), and other complications (5).

Measurements: Mortality and the occurrence of 21 surgical complications within 30 days of surgery.

Results: Thirty-day all-cause mortality rates varied widely across operations and were higher for patients aged 80 and older than for younger patients (8% vs 3%, P<.001). Mortality rates for those aged 80 and older were less than 2% for many commonly performed operations (e.g., transurethral prostatectomy, hernia repair, knee replacement, carotid endarterectomy). Of patients aged 80 and older, 20% had one or more postoperative complications, and patients who suffered complications had higher 30-day mortality than those who did not (26% vs 4%, P<.001). For 11 of the 21 complications, mortality for patients aged 80 and older was greater than 33%. The risk factors for poor outcomes were the same for older and younger patients, and the NSQIP Mortality Risk model performed well on patients aged 80 and older (C statistic=0.83).

Conclusion: A substantial minority of patients aged 80 and older died or suffered a complication within 30 days of surgery, but for many operations mortality rates were extremely low. Postoperative complications were associated with high 30-day mortality in patients aged 80 and older.