Aging & Orthopedics: What the Data Tells Us
A Growing Population
When you look at the numbers, America is getting older. In the category of people over the age of 65, there was a 2% increase in population between 2010 and 2015. Currently, that percentage is now 14.9%. Why is this happening? Well, largely, it’s because of the success of medical care; doctors and healthcare professionals are better able to take on deadly conditions that once were unmanageable. As a result, people are living longer—a good thing!—yet this also creates more complicated health issues.
For orthopedics, a growing population of older individuals means more care is needed for injuries or endemic disorders of the knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and feet. Dr. Blake E. Peterson and his colleagues noted in an article published in Geriatric Orthopedic Surgery & Rehabilitation in 2015 that,”patients older than 65 are the fastest growing population group at trauma centers.” The research centered on what this growth means for the medical community, and how it might influence health care. They assessed the effect by looking at two variables:”length of stay” (LOS) patients were in the hospital, and the amount of time spent in the intensive care unit (ICU).
An Increasingly Slippery Slope
Before we go into Dr. Peterson and his team’s findings, let’s take a closer look at the issue at hand. Aging affects the way one is able to recover from injuries, the amount of time it takes to recover, and the risk of other (“comorbid”) conditions. Older patients require a different level of care.
Seniors’ bodies are more susceptible to complications and slower recovery times. An orthopedic surgeon, then, must account for the risk of what would normally be a simple surgery, as a potentially dangerous one for the patient. Even the kind of medication normally prescribed may increase the risk of injury through dizziness that may cause loss of balance and a fall, which can be quite devastating for the older population. And then there’s simply the natural wear and tear on an aging body. In other words: care and procedures are much more complex.
The Scope of the Issue
To get a sense of these issues, Dr. Peterson and his colleagues looked at statistics from an orthopedic hospital. They then created a database of 870 relevant medical records. They chose not only older patients—defined in their study as someone age 70 years and up “but younger adults to compare the differences. Using computer programs specialized for analysis of the data, they then were able to get a better picture of the comorbidity rates, length of stay, and types of injuries in senior citizens.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what they found:
- Comorbidities: This study confirmed previous findings that orthopedic patients 70 years and up have higher rates of comorbid conditions including hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidemia (abnormally high level of fats in the blood), and heart disease.
- Length of Stay: While the length of stay in the hospital was not significantly different for older orthopedic patients it interestingly was for those between the ages of 60 and 69. The results for the percentage of time in the ICU proved to be much higher, however. 52.76% of a seniors’ stay at the hospital was spent in the ICU, compared to 34.9% for the younger group.
- Mechanism of Injury: The largest group of orthopedic patients from the younger group were there from vehicle collisions and bone fractures, while nearly one-third of the older cohort were being treated for a fall.
The Shifting Landscape
So clearly, the level of care needed in orthopedic operations depend on the age of the patient. Dr. Peterson noted increased stay in ICU for older patients was the most significant finding of the study. He explains, “With a lower physiological reserve and medical comorbidities that make these patients more fragile, it is not surprising that these patients will take longer to stabilize to transition to a lesser level of care.”
With such a growing rate of an older population, much more research is needed to adequately meet the level of healthcare they need. There’s no doubt once the populous “Baby Boomer” generation starts turning 70 and upwards, this need becomes all the more crucial. But not to worry. The medical community—including us here at Onward Orthopedics—are certainly ready for the challenge.
If you’d like to learn more about the latest in minimally invasive treatment options for conditions of the knee, wrist, hip, shoulder, and ankle, give one of our Patient Coordinators a call at (800) 577-1693.
- Census Bureau, United States. July 1, 2015. Accessed December 18, 2016. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00.
- Peterson, Blake E., Aneel Jiwanlal, Gregory J. Della Rocca, and Brett D. Crist. ‘Orthopedic Trauma and Aging’. Geriatric Orthopedic Surgery & Rehabilitation 6, no. 1 n.d. Accessed December 18, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318810/.