Older adults are at increased risk for adverse events after surgical procedures. Loss of independence (LOI), defined as a decline in function or mobility, increased care needs at home, or discharge to a non-home destination, is an important patient-centered outcome measure.

Older patients who report a loss of independence after surgery are more likely to die or be readmitted within 30 days, according to findings published in JAMA Surgery. The research is based on data collected from more than 5,000 patients on post-surgery function, cognition, mobility, and decision-making.


Objective: To evaluate LOI among older adult patients after surgical procedures and examine the association of LOI with readmission and death after discharge in this population.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This retrospective cohort study examined 9972 patients 65 years and older with known baseline function, mobility, and living situation undergoing inpatient operations from January 2014 to December 2014 at 26 hospitals participating in the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program Geriatric Surgery Pilot Project. A total of 4895 patients were excluded because they were totally dependent, classified as class 5 by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, undergoing orthopedic or spinal procedures, or died prior to discharge.

Exposures: Loss of independence at time of discharge.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Readmission and death after discharge.

Results: Of the 5077 patients included in this study, 2736 (53.9%) were female and 3876 (76.3%) were white, with a mean (SD) age of 75 (7) years. For this cohort, LOI increased with age; LOI occurred in 1386 of 2780 patients (49.9%) aged 65 to 74 years, 1162 of 1726 (67.3%) aged 75 to 84 years, and 479 of 571 (83.9%) 85 years and older (P < .001). Readmission occurred in 517 patients (10.2%). In a risk-adjusted model, LOI was strongly associated with readmission (odds ratio, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.4-2.2) and postoperative complication (odds ratio, 6.7; 95% CI, 4.9-9.0). Death after discharge occurred in 69 patients (1.4%). After risk adjustment, LOI was the strongest factor associated with death after discharge (odds ratio, 6.7; 95% CI, 2.4-19.3). Postoperative complication was not significantly associated with death after discharge.

Conclusions and Relevance: Loss of independence, a patient-centered outcome, was associated with postoperative readmissions and death after discharge. Loss of independence can feasibly be collected across multiple hospitals in a national registry. Clinical initiatives to minimize LOI will be important for improving surgical care for older adults.

Key Takeaways

  • Home Health and Private Pay providers should work closely with physicians and discharge planning for patients needing help in their home.
  • Home Health and private pay providers should track data for these patients to show savings in readmissions and ED visits.
  • Community-services and social workers should be part of the team.

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