Aging and Obesity: Is Bariatric Surgery an Option for the Elderly Patient?

The good news is that improved life expectancy is allowing baby boomers to enter their golden years in unprecedented numbers. The bad news is that rates of obesity among this aging demographic are climbing in never-before-seen numbers as well, putting this population at risk of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, lower extremity arthritis, sleep apnea, and stroke, all of which can lead to disability. Treatment guidelines to lose weight in the elderly have been difficult to define, yet it is very clear that obesity in the elderly contributes to worsening of multiple parameters which along with the metabolic problems mentioned already, include cognition, functionality and quality of life. While ample evidence supports the safety and effectiveness of weight-loss aka bariatric surgery in the general adult population, more information is needed in patients age 60 years and older.

Surgical treatment of obesity in the elderly, particularly over 65, remains controversial; this is explained by the increased surgical risk or the lack of data demonstrating its long-term benefit. Few studies have evaluated the clinical effects of bariatric surgery in this population.

The risk of any surgical intervention increases as one gets older. However, weight-loss surgery is very safe, and the potential benefits routinely outweigh any of the associated risks if there are no other health issues that would dramatically increase the risk of surgery.

Ideally, a comprehensive assessment would focus on psychosocial and functional status in addition to physical data. An excellent support system of family, friends, or caregiver resources is imperative. The selected patient should be capable of engaging in physical interventions focusing on mitigating muscle loss and osteoporosis and of maintaining changes in eating behavior as needed as well. A recommended “pre-habilitation” program may include a physical therapist to assist with strength and endurance training and a nutritionist to aide in enhancing protein intake, vitamin D, and other nutrient sufficiency.

Identifying goals of care, quality of life, and improved function should be considered as primary objectives of undergoing surgery. Goals of the surgery include not only weight loss but also improvements in physiological function, comorbidity, and quality of life, and reduction in institutionalization.

If you live in the Las Vegas area and are considering bariatric surgery, VIPSurg is here to help. Dr. Tsuda and his team of experts can find the best treatment for your unique situation.

Old obese woman walking with stick