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Seniors' Health: Obesity surgery is riskier for people older than 65

Elderly have more than double the mortality rate of younger patients, but some accept risk out of desperation to improve health

Seniors who undergo stomach stapling or other weight-loss surgeries are much more likely to die as a result of the procedure than their younger counterparts, a new study shows.

Patients older than 65 had a complication rate higher than 20 per cent and a mortality rate of more than three per cent, while those younger than 55 had a mortality rate of just over one per cent, according to the study by University of Texas researchers in Dallas.

Generally, those younger than 55 also had a lower risk of complications, with rates ranging from eight to 22 per cent. Complication rates increased progressively with age, with a notable sharp increase among those older than 60.

This was the first large-scale review of weight loss surgery in older adults and included information from more than 25,000 Americans undergoing these procedures in 2001 and 2002.

While he was not surprised to learn that older patients undergoing the surgery fared less well, Dr. Edward Livingston, co-author of the study, says the magnitude was startling. “The adverse event rate was quite a bit higher than I expected.”

The most common adverse events suffered as a result of weight-loss surgery included bleeding, respiratory problems and gastrointestinal complications.

The reason many older people seek obesity surgery is they believe they are hastening their death living the way they do, Livingston says. “One of the reasons I did the study is I’ve had a lot of patients come to me and say, ‘I don’t want to die. I want the surgery.’ They are willing to undergo risky procedures.

“My message is you have to be extremely careful about it,” he adds. “You have to prepare patients that the risk of complications is high.”

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