Frailty and surgery: Respite care at Sunrise

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Frailty can be a significant health concern for older adults. 

Frail seniors struggle to maintain homeostasis – that is, their bodies are unable to self-regulate as efficiently as they could when they were younger. For example, if it’s a particularly warm summer day, a healthy senior’s body would be able to regulate its core temperature through sweating. A frail senior, however, would not be able to adjust to the rising temperatures as well, which could put them at an increased risk for overheating and hyperthermia. 

This lack of homeostasis makes frail seniors vulnerable to a number of increased health conditions. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, these risks include greater instances of falls, delirium and disability. As many as 25 to 50 percent of people over the age of 85 are considered frail. 

“Frail seniors are more likely to have complications during medical procedures.”

The impacts of frailty on surgery 
Experiencing frailty on a regular, daily basis can create plenty of problems for seniors, but it presents an even greater threat during surgery and recovery. U.S. News & World Report states that frail seniors are more likely to have complications during medical procedures. In some cases, if the potential risks of an operation would be more severe than the patients’ condition, surgeons may opt for alternative treatments instead, even if the procedure would typically be the best course of action for a non-frail patient. 

That’s not always a realistic solution, however. Surgery may be the only realistic option, even for frail seniors. If they fall and fracture their hip, for example, a senior may have no other choice but to immediately undergo an invasive surgery. 

When time allows, many medical professionals will assess a senior’s level of frailty and may try to reduce the condition. U.S News & World Report includes a typical set of metrics for gauging the level of a patient’s frailty, including:

  • Weight loss of 10 pounds or more in a year, as well as shrinking and losing height. 
  • Significant fatigue and consistent exhaustion. 
  • Muscle weakness and low scores on grip-strength tests. 
  • Slower walking speeds.
  • Decreased/low levels of physical activity. 

If a senior meets three of these five criteria, they may be considered frail by medical standards. Their care team may try to combat some of these conditions prior to a non-urgent, but necessary, surgery. Low-impact exercises programs can be implemented to build muscle strength. High-calorie diets supplemented with protein shakes could be used to increase body weight. By improving some of the conditions that make a senior frail, doctors can decrease the risks a surgery may present.

Frail seniors often have longer recovery times, but hospitals aren't always the best setting for them to heal. Frail seniors often have longer recovery times, but hospitals aren’t always the best setting for them to heal.

The downside to hospital recoveries for frail seniors
Sometimes, however, there’s no time to delay a surgery to allow a patient to improve their physical condition. For sudden, emergency operations on frail seniors, it’s important that they have extra care and attention during their recovery process. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that readmission rates for patients over the age of 85 have increased since 2005. As surgical procedures on frail seniors improve, mortality rates have dropped, but doctors are finding that the healing process has become more complicated, leading to these extended hospital stays or quick readmissions for care. 

Hospitals, though they offer beneficial access to medical professionals and resources, are not always conducive to seniors’ healing processes, however. CNN reports that people over the age of 70 are likely to leave a hospital more disabled than they were when they came in if they have an extended stay. From exposure to antibiotic-resistant super bugs to sleep disruptions caused by hospital lighting and frequent noise, the hospital setting can greatly impede healthy recovery for seniors. They also may not get as much exercise as they need for preventing further muscle loss and weakening, or might not be fed adequately for the unique dietary needs many seniors have. 

How respite care can improve recuperation
When frail seniors need extended care after surgery, finding an alternative setting to a hospital can be tremendously helpful. That’s where respite care can come in. Respite care is a temporary stay at an assisted living facility providing advanced levels of health care. Whether a senior needs time to heal after an operation, recover from a fall or get over another injury or illness, short-term respite care can provide the services they need in a more relaxed setting. At Sunrise Senior Living, professional nursing staff and emergency response systems ensure seniors get the highest level of care during their recovery in an environment that caters to their specific needs. 

Care don’t need to wait for a medical emergency in order to explore respite care options, either. Respite care can serve as a trial period for seniors who are considering a switch to assisted living, or it can be used to provide family care givers with a vacation or break if needed. It’s a helpful resource that supplies extra medical support that seniors may not have access to at home, while placing them in a better atmosphere for healing that many hospital wings are able to provide for extended care. 

With regular, low-impact, moderate-intensity exercise, seniors can reduce their symptoms of frailty, which can improve their ability to recover quickly after an illness, operation or injury. When they do need extra assistance during a recuperation period, however, respite care can reduce the long-term, negative impacts of medical procedures by offering top-notch services in a healing environment. As a result, seniors can prevent exacerbating their frailty, catching infections or developing further disabilities, helping to ensure they have longer, healthier lives.