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A systematic review was undertaken. Electronic databases from 2010 to 2015 were searched to identify articles which evaluated the relationship between frailty and post-operative outcomes in surgical populations with a mean age of 75 and older. Articles were excluded if they were in non-English languages or if frailty was measured using a single marker only. Demographic data, type of surgery performed, frailty measure and impact of frailty on adverse outcomes were extracted from the selected studies. Quality of the studies and risk of bias was assessed by the Epidemiological Appraisal Instrument.



Twenty-three studies were selected for the review and they were assessed as medium to high quality. The mean age ranged from 75 to 87 years, and included patients undergoing cardiac, oncological, general, vascular and hip fracture surgeries. There were 21 different instruments used to measure frailty. Regardless of how frailty was measured, the strongest evidence in terms of numbers of studies, consistency of results and study quality was for associations between frailty and increased mortality at 30 days, 90 days and one year follow-up, post-operative complications and length of stay. A small number of studies reported on discharge to institutional care, functional decline and lower quality of life after surgery, and also found a significant association with frailty.

There was strong evidence that frailty in older-old and oldest-old surgical patients predicts post-operative mortality, complications, and prolonged length of stay. Frailty assessment may be a valuable tool in peri-operative assessment. It is possible that different frailty tools are best suited for different acuity and type of surgical patients. The association between frailty and return to pre-morbid function, discharge destination, and quality of life after surgery warrants further research.

It has long been recognised that advanced age can carry increased risk of mortality and morbidity after surgery. However, new knowledge is emerging that frailty, an age-related cumulative decline in multiple physiological systems, is a better predictor of mortality and morbidity than chronological age [4, 5]. Patients of the same age do not all have the same risk. The identification and assessment of frailty may facilitate identification of vulnerable surgical patients so that appropriate surgical and anaesthetic management can be implemented.

The inclusion criteria for the search were: 1) the mean participant age was over 75 years; 2) the patient population had a surgical procedure; 3) frailty was assessed as a composite measure of more than one domain of health deficit, which accords with the current conceptualisation of frailty [13, 14] and was the main factor of interest in the study; and 4) the relationship between frailty and adverse outcomes was evaluated. Exclusion criteria were review articles, conference abstracts, and studies which measured frailty as a single item, such as a scan finding, a blood marker, or a physical performance test such as gait speed.

The following data were extracted from the eligible studies: sample size, mean age, country of origin of the study population, study design, type of surgery performed, frailty measure, and impact of frailty on adverse outcome.

Specific items of post-operative complications were also examined by several studies. An association between frailty and major cardiac and cerebral adverse events (MACCE) was reported by one of the three studies evaluating this outcome [19, 21, 23]. One study explored the association between frailty and delirium and did not find a significant association [35]. Of two studies evaluating frailty and readmission rate, one study found a significant association [32] while the other did not [30]. One study showed a significant association between frailty and the need for resuscitation [23].

Of the six studies that included prolonged length of stay as an outcome, an association with frailty was found in five [18, 30, 32, 35, 36]. Three studies evaluated functional decline as an outcome, of which only one found a significant association [20]. Discharge to a residential care facility was found to be associated with frailty by both studies in which this outcome was evaluated [32, 33]. Quality of life was evaluated in one study and frailty was associated with the composite poor outcome of mortality or poorer quality of life [39].

Based on quality, quantity and consistency of the included studies, there is evidence for an association between frailty and adverse postoperative outcomes. Although cohort studies are lower on the hierarchy of evidence than randomised controlled trials, it is acknowledged that the cohort study design is entirely appropriate for investigating this particular research question. The literature search identified 23 studies that met the inclusion criteria and 15 of those were in the upper quartile of quality assessment, indicating the majority were methodologically sound. The consistency was evidenced by the finding that 20 of the included studies found evidence of an association between frailty and at least one adverse outcome.

The reviewed studies consistently found that in patients aged over 75 years, frailty was associated with increased mortality, post-operative complications, prolonged length of stay and discharge to residential care facility. The strongest evidence of association was between frailty and 30 day mortality. The association was consistent across different frailty instruments and regardless of the type of surgery performed.

Our findings are congruent with other reviews of frailty in surgical patients. Beggs et al. found eight out of 19 articles demonstrating frailty to be significantly associated with mortality and post-operative complications [41]. Other systematic reviews have concentrated on specific surgical subspecialties, namely oncologic surgery [42], cardiac surgery [43] and thoracic surgery [44]. They also found frailty to impact negatively on post-operative outcomes. Two other reviews written on cardiac surgery also identified frailty as a risk factor that provided important prognostic information in older adults needing surgical or transcatheter aortic valve replacement [45] and found that frailty increased the predictive power of conventional risk scores [46].

There is evidence that frailty is associated with increased mortality and morbidity in the older surgical patients. As patients over 75 years old are presenting more commonly for surgery, frailty assessment may have considerable value as a tool for peri-operative assessment. However, for the value of frailty assessment to be realised, it must not only predict outcomes but also be easily incorporated into routine assessment or created from existing information, without placing further resource burden on clinical staff and the patient. Once established, such a tool may offer a valuable addition to the risk assessment of older persons undergoing surgery, alongside the standard surgical and anaesthetic assessment tools. With the increasing focus on patient centred care, the ongoing development of frailty assessment has the potential to improve how well patients can be informed by their surgeons and anaesthetists prior to their procedures, thus enhancing informed consent. The clinical utility, time taken to make frailty assessments and the ease of use of most of the tools in the 23 included studies were not reported, which would be useful in assisting clinicians to decide which tool to adopt into clinical practice.

This review found several important gaps in the current literature. Frailty in acute surgical patients is under-studied. Only 7 out of 23 studies assessed acute surgical patients and all of them used scales based on comprehensive geriatric assessment to measure frailty. Reliance on performance based tests may be impractical in the acute surgical patients. More research into how frailty impacts on surgical patients in the acute setting and how best to measure frailty in acute surgical patients is needed. An instrument which is robust and valid for measuring frailty in elective patients in a surgical pre-admission clinic may not be applicable to the acute patients. Despite the need to find a unified tool for measuring frailty, it is possible that different frailty tools are best suited for different acuity and type of surgical patients. Furthermore, these instruments need to be time-efficient and suitable for application at the bedside by staff who are not geriatricians.

Mortality and post-operative complications are the most commonly studied and reported outcomes in the 23 articles reviewed. Quality of life post-surgery was assessed in only one out of the 23 studies; similarly, functional decline and discharge to a care facility were only evaluated in three and two studies respectively. The association between frailty and functional outcome, discharge destination, and quality of life after surgery warrants further research. Factors and outcomes important to the individual elderly patient undergoing surgery must also be considered when performing pre-operative assessment, such as the consideration of premorbid status and return to the premorbid level of function.

Frailty is consistently found is to be associated with adverse outcomes after surgery. In the 23 articles reviewed, the strongest evidence lies in the association with increased 30 day, 90 day and 1 year mortality, post-operative complications and length of stay. This highlights the importance of detecting frailty in peri-operative assessment. The possibility that different frailty tools may be best suited for different acuity and type of surgical patients is worth exploring. The association between frailty and return to pre-morbid function, discharge destination, and quality of life after surgery warrants further research.

During the past 15 years there has emerged in the geriatric medical community a "frailty syndrome" with a good bit of research around the diagnosis and the implications of the syndrome. Frailty syndrome is defined as age-related deficits in normal function and involving several body systems. This rather vague definition really means loss of muscle, stamina, endurance, sometimes weight, and general fitness. Often the definition involves the presence of two or more chronic diseases like cancer, arthritis, heart disease, etc. Criteria for diagnosis are weakness, slowness, low level of physical activity, easy exhaustion, poor endurance, and loss of weight. Most of these can be measured with tests like grip strength for weakness or time to walk 15 feet for slowness. One must have 3 or more of the criteria to qualify for frailty. 041b061a72


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