Gastric bypass surgery for weight loss is as safe for the elderly as it is for younger patients, researchers said Monday. Several small studies reported previously have yielded mixed results about safety in those over 65, but a new study on a much larger group of patients finds no increased risk from the procedure. Elderly patients do end up spending more time in the hospital after the surgery, however, said Dr. Robert B. Dorman of the University of Minnesota at a Digestive Diseases Week meeting in Chicago.
Dorman and his colleagues studied 48,378 patients who underwent bariatric surgery of all types between 2005 and 2009. About 5% of the patients were over age 65. They examined the 30-day mortality rate in the patients and found that it was slightly, but not significantly, higher in those over 65 -- although it was under 1% for all groups. But the older patients were more likely to have a prolonged hospital stay after surgery: an average of about three days for those undergoing laparoscopic surgery and six days for those undergoing open-chest surgery.
As in other segments of the population, obesity is now increasing in the elderly. At least 12% of people over age 65 now have a body mass index or BMI greater than 35. The National Institutes of Health has recommended that age 65 be the cut-off for bariatric surgery, and many private insurers will not pay for it in this population, but Medicare does. The proportion of such surgeries performed in the elderly has increased from 1.9% in 2005 to 4.8% in 2009, Dorman said. He cautioned, however, that the decision to perform surgery in an elderly patient should be dictated by the patient's specific physical characteristics and health.