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Should Grandma Choose Surgery?


"My grandmother, who is in her late 80s, recently had shoulder surgery. Some family members were concerned about her ability to manage surgery, but she made the decision to proceed. We are now in a situation where the surgery is done, and grandma is not recovering well. She has been hospitalized multiple times for surgery-associated problems.

I believe our concerns about her having surgery may have been valid at this stage in the game. I ask this question with the hope that it helps others. How does one advise an elderly parent or grandparent about surgery later in life?



There is no easy answer to your question.  People make choices all day long, and not all of the choices turn out to be great ones. Fortunately or unfortunately, what we choose to do materially impacts our loved ones. This is true of career decisions, housing choices, purchases, and a host of other choices we make throughout our lives.

There are those who spend their lives making choices that consider everyone but themselves, those that go alone while never considering others, and the vast majority weigh all possibilities while trying to make the best choice for all parties involved.

Let’s assume that Grandma was in the vast majority with her decision, weighing all factors carefully. She may have been given overly-optimistic advice by health care professionals, family, and friends. She may also have underestimated her resilience for all of the steps necessary to an excellent recovery. No two people are alike when it comes to determination and conditioning. Then there are times when things just do not go well even with the best of care and intent. It is hard to know where her situation falls.

Oftentimes families wish to weigh in on elective surgical procedures for the elderly, and just as often family members do not agree on the risk. Here are a few steps to take and several things to consider when making the choice to have or not have surgery when someone is in their 80s or later.


Steps to take

  • Make time to join your parent or grandparent on pre-surgical visits.
  • Ask questions.
    • What is rehabilitation usually like for someone of this age?
    • What is the typical age of someone having this surgery?
    • How many patients of this age have had the surgery?
    • What is the expected outcome?
    • On a scale of 1-10, how good of a candidate is my mother/grandmother?
    • What are the most likely risks/side effects?
  • Discuss all of the risks and rewards before the choice is made.


Things to consider

  • How independent is Mother/Grandmother?
  • How determined is Mother/Grandmother?
  • What have prior surgeries been like for Mother/Grandmother?
  • Is the reward worth the risk?

I realize that it is after-the-fact for your family at this point, though you may realize that everything to predict a good outcome was considered. If not, then I hope there will be a next time.

I wish you the best with your situation.


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