Older adults can benefit from weight loss surgery, study says

Obesity is a growing problem among people of all ages, including older adults. Though there are current measures to control and treat obesity in seniors, weight loss surgery is not usually performed on people who are above 65 years old.

A new study, presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in the United Kingdom, shows that weight-loss surgeries may benefit older adults to achieve successful weight loss and enhanced diabetes control.

Image Credit: JPC-PROD / Shutterstock
Image Credit: JPC-PROD / Shutterstock

In the Middle East, there are increased rates of obesity and treating an aging population is a challenge for healthcare professionals. There is scant published data on the effectiveness of weight-loss surgery in older age groups. The team wants to show that the surgery is safe and can benefit older adults who are obese.

Bariatric surgery, also called gastric sleeve or gastric bypass, is a surgical procedure that induces weight loss by restricting the amount of food the stomach can hold, leading to gastric restriction and malabsorption of nutrients. The procedure has many health benefits, including long-term weight loss of about 60 to 80 percent of excess weight loss, favorable changes in the gut hormones to decrease, and restricts the good that can be consumed.

Obesity is a growing health epidemic across the globe, with 1.9 billion overweight adults and 650 million obese adults in 2016, which was tripled since 1975. Weight loss surgery has long been used to treat obesity and to prevent its complications, but it’s rarely recommended for obese individuals above 65 years old because of the increased risks. However, this age group can also face decreased quality of life if they’re obese.

Weight-loss surgery among older adults safe

The team of researchers from Imperial College London Diabetes Center in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) says that this age group can still benefit from weight-loss surgery and can reduce the complications caused by obesity. To land to their findings, they assessed the results of 22 patients who underwent weight-loss surgery after the age of 65. After two years, the patients had marked weight loss of about 24 percent of their baseline body weight before the surgery.

“Management of obesity and diabetes in old age is challenging. There is a lot of scepticism around conducting weight-loss surgery in patients over 65. Our study suggests these procedures could be considered in older adults as an effective intervention to aid weight loss and associated complications,” Dr. Nader Lessan, study author from the Imperial College London Diabetes Center, said.

Also, for the 11 patients who had type 2 diabetes and took insulin shots to control their blood sugar levels, four patients no longer needed the shots while the dosage decreased among the others. There were no adverse effects, aside from vitamin D deficiency, which is also an expected effect among younger patients undergoing bariatric surgery.

"Although based on a small number of patients, our data suggest that successful weight loss and improved diabetes control can be safely achieved with surgery in older patients, which could have real benefits for their longevity and quality of life,” Dr. Lessan added.

The study, however, had only used limited data, and the team wants to conduct another study among the older population. An observational study can be more effective in comparing outcomes of surgery with other known treatment procedures, like lifestyle modification and use of medicines.

What is bariatric or weight-loss surgery?

Bariatric surgery is a weight-loss surgery that is recommended for patients with severe obesity and can’t lose enough weight to improve their health. It’s also suggested for obese patients who already have obesity-related health problems that need urgent intervention, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The surgery involves making the stomach smaller and, in some cases, making changes in the small intestine. The most common bariatric surgery types include gastric bypass, gastric band, and gastric sleeve.

Bariatric surgery can help improve many health problems caused by obesity like high cholesterol levels, elevated blood pressure, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Journal reference:

Bariatric surgery outcomes amongst older obese patients: data from an Emirati cohort, Saradalekshmi Koramannil Radha, Maha T Barakat, Nader Lessan, Endocrine Abstracts (2019) 65 P215 | DOI: 10.1530/endoabs.65.P215, https://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0065/ea0065p215.htm

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

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Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She recently completed a Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and is now working as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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