Geriatric vulnerability and the burden of disability after major surgery

Thomas M. Gill, Terrence E. Murphy, Evelyne A. Gahbauer, Linda Leo-Summers, Robert D. Becher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Strong epidemiologic evidence linking indicators of geriatric vulnerability to long-term functional outcomes after major surgery is lacking. The objective of this study was to evaluate the association between geriatric vulnerability and the burden of disability after hospital discharge for major surgery. Methods: From a prospective longitudinal study of 754 nondisabled community-living persons, aged 70 years or older, 327 admissions for major surgery were identified from 247 participants who were discharged from the hospital from March 1997 to December 2017. The indicators of geriatric vulnerability were ascertained immediately prior to the major surgery or during the prior comprehensive assessment, which was completed every 18 months. Disability in 13 essential, instrumental and mobility activities was assessed each month. Results: The burden of disability over the 6 months after major surgery was considerably greater for non-elective than elective surgery. In multivariable analysis, 10 factors were independently associated with disability burden: age 85 years or older, female sex, Black race or Hispanic ethnicity, neighborhood disadvantage, multimorbidity, frailty, one or more disabilities, low functional self-efficacy, smoking, and obesity. The burden of disability increased with each additional vulnerability factor, with mean values (credible intervals) increasing from 1.6 (1.4–1.9) disabilities for 0–1 vulnerability factors to 6.6 (6.0–7.2) disabilities for 7 or more vulnerability factors. The corresponding values were 1.2 (0.9–1.5) and 5.9 (5.0–6.7) disabilities for elective surgery and 2.6 (2.1–3.1) and 8.2 (7.3–9.2) disabilities for non-elective surgery. Conclusions: The burden of disability after hospital discharge for major surgery increases progressively as the number of geriatric vulnerability factors increases. These factors can be used to identify older persons who are particularly susceptible to poor functional outcomes after major surgery, and a subset may be amenable to intervention, including frailty, low functional self-efficacy, smoking, and obesity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1471-1480
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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