Judson Haims: New program looks to improve surgical care for aging adults

Judson Haims
Special to The Aspen Times

Planned or unplanned, surgery at any age comes with inherent risks. As such, doctors and anesthesiologists spend great amounts of time preparing for safer surgeries by learning about each patient’s medical history and potential risk factors.

When you are young, often the amount of variable health conditions that may affect a surgical procedure and the recovery after surgery may be low. However, as you age and have vulnerabilities, it is important to properly prepare for surgical procedures in addition to take precautions to mitigate risks of postoperative complications.

With a U.S. population aging at unprecedented rates, substantial challenges within the health care system are occurring. One of the challenges is addressing surgical care for this population. Often labeled as “high risk” because of frailty, blood pressure, cognition, vascular/pulmonary concerns and chronic disease, this population needs more attention before and after surgery.

Surgery can be very taxing and stressful for the body. By taking an active role in preparing for surgery, you may stand a better chance for an easier recovery and a more successful outcome. It is always a good idea to prepare physically and mentally.

Prior to a procedure, being as active as you can is key to maintaining limber joints and strong muscles. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to a gym. Anything you can do to maintain limber joints and strengthen muscles will be helpful. Walking, stretching and any light exercise will help you regain mobility after a procedure.

While you should always make sure you discuss your pre-surgical plans and diet with your medical provider and surgeon prior to a procedure, you should be aware that the foods you choose to eat prior to a procedure can have an impact on your recovery.

Eating enough protein before your procedure will help support your immune system, promote wound healing and will assist in maintaining muscle mass. Antioxidants may be another consideration to aid with inflammation and general wound healing. Foods such as blueberries, raspberries, red grapes, cranberries, apples, peanuts, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, legumes and broccoli are good sources of antioxidants.

Last month, in Washington, D.C., the American College of Surgeons launched a new program specifically designed to address and improve surgical care and outcomes for the aging adults. The program is called the Geriatric Surgery Verification Program.

According to the American College of Surgeons, “The GSV Program provides hospitals with a validated list of 30 evidence-based and patient-centered standards for geriatric surgery that hospitals can implement to continuously optimize surgical care for this vulnerable population. These standards define the resources and processes that hospitals need to have in place to perform operations effectively, efficiently and safely in older adults, while also always prioritizing what matters most to individual patients with regard to their needs and treatment goals. For instance, the standards include recommendations for improving communications between patients and their health care team; managing medications; screening for cognitive, nutrition and mobility decline; and ensuring proper staffing is in place, among other concerns.”

Over the past few years, I have noticed that a growing segment of our business is being devoted toward assisting our aging population after surgeries. Perhaps this may be due in part to a growing number of seniors choosing to move here to take part in the many lifestyle opportunities offered. It may also be because our mountain towns are now providing top-tier cardio, orthopedic and neurological providers. Fortunately, such medical offerings are enabling our aging community members the option to receive medical assistance here in the mountains as opposed to the Front Range.

The GSV program is a great step forward in addressing patient needs and developing solutions to the way surgical care is managed for older adults. As the population within our mountain communities ages, and our medical system moves to a patient-centered system, the quality of care provided to older surgical patients will dramatically improve.

Our mountain communities have work to do, but we are moving in the right direction.

When planning a surgical procedure, please give thought to what you can do to best prepare yourself for a safe and successful procedure. Post-surgery, make sure you have a support plan in place for follow-up appointments and rehabilitation.

You can learn more about the GSV program on the ACS website.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is and 970-328-5526.


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