If you’ve often thought bariatric surgery could solve a weight-loss problem — for someone much younger or hardier than you — recent research suggests you may want to think again.
Recent studies show that bariatric surgery may be safe for those in their 60s, 70s, and even for some in their 80s, and that it may significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke for patients who already have type 2 diabetes.
“In the last 10 years bariatric surgery has become one of the safest operations you can undergo regardless of what age you are,” says Christine Ren-Fielding, M.D., chief of the New York University Langone weight-management program. As she describes it, much has also changed since the days when the procedure was thought of as a sign of weakness, or a surgical copout for those who couldn’t stick to a diet.
The procedure, now usually done through small laparoscopic incisions, has become more efficient at keeping pounds off. The recovery period has also shrunk, with patients often going home the day of surgery — unlike the week they used to spend in the hospital.
Ren-Fielding’s oldest bariatric patient to date was 83 when she underwent the procedure. Now 91, she’s kept off 80 pounds, reduced her diabetes medication and enjoys a better quality of life. “I don’t think age is a limiting factor in so far as having surgery,” says Ren-Fielding.
And research is starting to back up that idea. In November, JAMA Surgery published the findings of researchers at Brown University who examined 16 studies of bariatric surgery interventions among adults 55 years and older. They found that patients who had bariatric procedures, such as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB), adjustable gastric banding (AGB), as well as minimally invasive, laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy (SG), showed improved weight loss one year after their procedure and lower mortality 30 days after it.