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Anaesthesia. 2014 Jan;69 Suppl 1:81-98. doi: 10.1111/anae.12524.

Peri-operative care of the elderly 2014: Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland.

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College of Emergency Medicine.


Increasing numbers of elderly patients are undergoing an increasing variety of surgical procedures. There is an age-related decline in physiological reserve, which may be compounded by illness, cognitive decline, frailty and polypharmacy. Compared with younger surgical patients, the elderly are at relatively higher risk of mortality and morbidity after elective and (especially) emergency surgery. Multidisciplinary care improves outcomes for elderly surgical patients. Protocol-driven integrated pathways guide care effectively, but must be individualised to suit each patient. The AAGBI strongly supports an expanded role for senior geriatricians in coordinating peri-operative care for the elderly, with input from senior anaesthetists (consultants/associate specialists) and surgeons. The aims of peri-operative care are to treat elderly patients in a timely, dignified manner, and to optimise rehabilitation by avoiding postoperative complications. Effective peri-operative care improves the likelihood of very elderly surgical patients returning to their same pre-morbid place of residence, and maintains the continuity of their community care when in hospital. Postoperative delirium is common, but underdiagnosed, in elderly surgical patients, and delays rehabilitation. Multimodal intervention strategies are recommended for preventing postoperative delirium. Peri-operative pain is common, but underappreciated, in elderly surgical patients, particularly if they are cognitively impaired. Anaesthetists should administer opioid-sparing analgesia where possible, and follow published guidance on the management of pain in older people. Elderly patients should be assumed to have the mental capacity to make decisions about their treatment. Good communication is essential to this process. If they clearly lack that capacity, proxy information should be sought to determine what treatment, if any, is in the patient's best interests. Anaesthetists must not ration surgical or critical care on the basis of age, but must be involved in discussions about the utility of surgery and/or resuscitation. The evidence base informing peri-operative care for the elderly remains poor. Anaesthetists are strongly encouraged to become involved in national audit projects and outcomes research specifically involving elderly surgical patients.

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