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Applying Evidence-based Principles to Guide Emergency Surgery in Older Adults

      Abstract

      Although outcomes for older adults undergoing elective surgery are generally comparable to younger patients, outcomes associated with emergency surgery are poor. These adverse outcomes are in part because of the physiologic changes associated with aging, increased odds of comorbidities in older adults, and a lower probability of presenting with classic “red flag” physical examination findings. Existing evidence-based perioperative best practice guidelines perform better for elective compared with emergency surgery; so, decision making for older adults undergoing emergency surgery can be challenging for surgeons and other clinicians and may rely on subjective experience.
      To aid surgical decision making, clinicians should assess premorbid functional status, evaluate for the presence of geriatric syndromes, and consider social determinants of health. Documentation of care preferences and a surrogate decision maker are critical. In discussing the risks and benefits of surgery, patient-centered narrative formats with inclusion of geriatric-specific outcomes are important. Use of risk calculators can be meaningful, although limitations exist. After surgery, daily evaluation for common postoperative complications should be considered, as well as early discharge planning and palliative care consultation, if appropriate. The role of the geriatrician in emergency surgery for older adults may vary based on the acuity of patient presentation, but perioperative consultation and comanagement are strongly recommended to optimize care delivery and patient outcomes.

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