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With Careful Screening, Bariatric Surgery May Be Safe for Patients Aged 60 and Older

June 18, 2007 -- Weight loss surgery may be OK for people aged 60 and older, provided they've been carefully screened, a new study shows.

"Our results indicate that bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery) should not be denied to patients based solely on age or Medicare status," write Peter Hallowell, MD, and colleagues.

Hallowell's team works in Cleveland in the surgery department of Case Western Reserve University's medical school.

They tracked 928 obese adults who got weight loss surgery between March 1998 and May 2006 at University Hospitals Case Medical Center of Case Western Reserve University.

The patients included 46 people aged 60 or older and 31 Medicare patients.

There are various types of bariatric surgery. All of the patients in Hallowell's study got gastric bypass surgery.

During the gastric bypass operation, the surgeon creates a smaller stomach pouch that holds less food than a normal stomach. The food passes from the pouch, bypassing part of the small intestine, to the rest of the digestive system.

Age and Weight Loss Surgery

Hallowell's team followed the patients one year after bariatric surgery. During that time, the patients' age and Medicare status had no bearing on their rate of complications.

"No difference was found in the occurrence of complications in Medicare patients, patients younger than 60 years, or patients 60 years or older," write the researchers.

For instance, none of the patients aged 60 and older died in the year after surgery, compared to four deaths during that time among younger patients. The causes of those deaths weren't necessarily related to the bariatric surgery.

Screening Counts

Screening the patients carefully before surgery was probably the key to the findings, note the researchers.

They required the patients to do the following before surgery:

  • Try supervised, nonsurgical weight loss methods first
  • See a cardiologist if they were 60 or older or if they were at-risk younger patients
  • See a lung doctor (pulmonologist)

Most patients also spent a night at a sleep lab to see whether they had sleep apnea.

Hallowell's team now requires their bariatric surgery patients to do the following:

  1. Exercise at least four times weekly in a walking, swimming, or biking program.
  2. Don't smoke for at least three months before surgery.
  3. Gain no weight between the initial office visit and the surgery.
  4. Get a presurgery evaluation for sleep apnea.

  • Are you considering weight loss surgery? Talk with others on WebMD’s Weight Loss Surgery message board.

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