Spine Surgery In Older Adults – Considerations And Risks

Category: Spine Surgery | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

Doctor Talking To Senior Couple

Older adults are more likely to need a surgical procedure to address an issue with their spine, but this group is also at a greater risk of complications due to their age, so individual attention needs to be given to each patient to fully understand the risks of operating. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at some of the risks and considerations that need to be made if someone in their sixties, seventies, eighties or beyond is a potential candidate for spine surgery.

Spine Surgery Risks For Seniors 

As we’ve talked about on the blog in the past, age is a number but health is relative. We’ve seen 85-year-olds who are healthier than many 55-year-olds, so while this blog focuses on older adults, know that your doctor will give you specific advice based on a number of different health factors outside of your age.

With that said, generally speaking, a 40-year-old back pain sufferer is healthier than a 75-year-old back pain sufferer, and the 75-year-old will typically have some additional risks that will need to be considered prior to surgery. This blog is aimed at addressing some of the more common risks that need to be assessed for your average patient at an advanced age, full-well knowing that age alone won’t dictate the following risks.

  1. Condition Severity – Many spinal conditions are brought on by natural or arthritic degeneration, and older adults tend to have more natural degeneration caused by simple wear and tear over the years. Your surgeon will need to understand the level of degeneration that you’ve experienced in order to determine the best path forward. If degeneration or arthritis is too advanced, surgery may not be able to fully address the problem or a different type of treatment may have a higher likelihood of success.
  2. Anesthesia Complications – Anesthesia is a powerful drug that helps provide for a painless operation, but it is not without its risks. Older adults are more susceptible to cognitive complications as a result of being put under anesthesia, and if they have already experienced some cognitive decline, the risk of further problems may make the pursuit of surgery ill-advised.
  3. The Physical Demand Of Recovery – As we’ve said on the blog numerous times in the past, recovering from a spinal procedure is going to take a fair amount of work and effort on your part. You’re not just going to be able to lay in bed and allow healing to run its course. You’re going to have to be active, mobile and following through on your physical therapy exercises. If there are doubts that you could handle the physical nature of the recovery process, a spine specialist may opt for conservative treatments.
  4. Fall Risk – Your mobility may take a hit as you work to recover from your operation, and if you are already dealing with balance or coordination issues like many seniors do, this could put you at risk for a fall. Falls can be devastating at any point in time, but this is especially true when your back and your body is physically weakened from the trauma of surgery. Assessing potential fall risk in older patients is a must before surgery.
  5. Specific Surgical Complications – Older adults tend to be at a higher risk for some of the more common complications associated with a surgical procedure, like an infection, blood clot or delayed wound healing. Their immune and circulatory system may not be as strong as it used to, and this can complicate matters following a procedure.

These are just a few of the main considerations that need to be addressed prior to moving forward with a spinal procedure, but we’re confident that we can do everything in our power to find the right treatment for your unique situation. For more information about any of these risks, or to talk to a specialist about your back pain, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi and the team at The Midwest Spine & Brain Institute today at (651) 430-3800.

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