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Caring nurse talks with senior female patient

Understanding Open Heart Surgery for Seniors

Unfortunately, there was a time when the age of the patient was a strong factor in determining the outcome of a serious surgery. Thanks to medical innovations, improved surgical techniques and increased education about senior care, older adults are now benefitting from surgeries that once were prohibited by their age. For example, cardiac surgery can now be performed on patients 85 years old and older with positive results, allowing the patients to continue to live active and enjoyable lives.

When considering a major cardiac surgery for a senior patient, it is still important to consider the open-heart surgery survival rate by age, as well as the long-term side effects of open-heart surgery. In order to properly weigh all the pros and cons, you must understand what surgery is needed, what the surgery actually entails, the risks, the rewards and the requirements for recovery.

Are Open-Heart Surgery and Bypass Surgery the Same?

The terms “open-heart surgery” and “bypass surgery” are some of the most common ones used when discussing major cardiac procedures. But, is open heart surgery and bypass surgery the same thing?

The short answer is – yes, they are! The term “open-heart surgery” means that the patient is connected to a heart-lung bypass machine, or bypass pump, during the surgery. The heart stops while the patient is connected to the machine and the machine does the work of the heart and lungs during the procedure. The most common types of open-heart surgery are:

  • Heart valve surgery
  • Surgery to correct heart defects present at birth
  • Heart bypass surgery (also known as coronary artery bypass graft or CABG)

Long Term Side Effects of Open-Heart Surgery

Open-heart surgery is a major operation at any age and requires close monitoring after the procedure. According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), there are some risks that can apply after this procedure. Caregivers should be aware of the risks and pay attention to any signs of distress in the patient. These long-term side effects after open-heart surgery include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Infection in the chest wound
  • Chest pain
  • Kidney or lung failure
  • Blood clots
  • Brain “fuzziness” or memory loss

For patients in all these categories, it is normal to remain in the intensive care unit (ICU) for several days after the operation. Likely a breathing tube will remain in place for a period of time determined by the physician and a line will remain in the patient’s vein to administer pain relief medication.

So, how long does it take to fully recover from open heart surgery? Once the patient leaves the hospital, recovery at home usually requires four to six weeks. During this time, it is not unusual for patients to experience swelling in the area where the artery or vein was removed, fatigue or mood swings, muscle pain in the shoulders or upper back and itching from healing incisions. In terms of long-term side effects of open-heart surgery, some patients report prolonged feelings of confusion and on-going issues with regaining their prior energy level.

Understanding the Risks and Benefits

As the population over the age of 50 continues to grow in the United States, more physicians gain experience treating older patients. While they may not be geriatric specialists, most surgeons, nurses, ICU specialists and anesthesiologists now have more experience with the elderly, which is a benefit for patients.

Open-heart surgery today is a common procedure, but it still comes with risk. Because of this, all the potential risks and outcomes should be considered before deciding to undergo the operation. Here are a few questions to think about when a senior is considering open-heart surgery:

  • What is the overall health of the patient mentally, physically and emotionally?
  • Does the patient have a clear understanding of their health issues and what the surgery will entail?
  • Will the patient be at an increased risk going under anesthesia?
  • Will the patient be able to participate in his or her recovery, even if the road to recovery is long?

Looking Ahead

After a major surgery or serious illness of any kind, many seniors require professional assistance with their recovery. A senior rehabilitation facility may be the right choice for your loved one.

Mattoon Rehabilitation & Health Care Center creates a personalized recovery and rehabilitation plan for each patient that is carried out by licensed health care experts and supervised by the Medical Director. For those in the Mattoon area, contact us for a tour by clicking here.