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Slower Walking Speed Linked to Surgical Risk in Elderly
Date:10/27/2011

THURSDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Older people who walk more slowly than their peers may be at greater risk for complications and disability following surgery, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Colorado said surgeons should assess the elderly differently than younger patients and take walking speed into account when determining surgical risks.

"This approach may lead to a more individualized way of deciding who should undergo surgery. We are designing tests to get away from chronologic age, and instead are now focusing on physiologic age," said study co-author Dr. Thomas Robinson, an associate professor of surgery, in a American College of Surgeons (ACS) news release.

Frailty, a condition marked by muscle loss, fatigue and a lack of physical resiliency, can be revealed by a slow gait or walking speed, the researchers said. In these cases the stress of an operation could lead to serious complications, they said, which could be avoided by assessing walking speed in a simple test before surgery.

The new research is what's known as a "proof of concept" study, which uses a small number of strictly selected patients to show an effect. It does not have the scientific rigor of a randomized controlled trial.

Researchers followed 195 patients aged 65 and older having heart or colorectal surgery. Before surgery, the researchers gave the patients a short timed walking test. After completing the test, the patients were classified as fast (10 seconds or fewer), intermediate (between 11 and 14 seconds) or slow (15 seconds or more).

The study showed 73 percent of the "slow" walkers who had heart surgery were afterward sent to an institutional care facility, compared with 17 percent of the "fast" walkers.

In addition, the researchers found that the slow walkers spent an average of two more days in the hospital than the fast group. Only 13 percent of the fast walkers had more than o
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