The elderly compose a substantial proportion of patients presenting with complex spinal pathology. Several recent studies have suggested that fusion of 4 or more levels increases the risk of perioperative complications in elderly patients. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to analyze the effects of age in persons undergoing multilevel (≥ 5 levels) thoracolumbar fusion surgery.
A retrospective review of all hospital records, operative reports, and clinic notes was conducted for 124 consecutive patients who underwent surgery between 2000 and 2007 with an average follow-up of 3.5 years and a minimum follow-up of 1.2 years. The most frequent preoperative diagnoses included scoliosis, tumor, osteomyelitis, vertebral fracture, and degenerative disc disease with stenosis. Complications were classified as intraoperative and major and minor postoperative as well as the need for revision surgery. Multivariate logistic regression analysis was used to determine the effects of age and other potentially prognostic factors.
After controlling for other factors, increasing age was associated with an elevated risk for major postoperative complications (OR 1.04, 95% CI 1.00–1.10) as were increasing levels of fusion (OR 1.5, 95% CI 1.1–2.1) and male sex (OR 4.6, 95% CI 1.3–16.2). In patients 65 years of age or older, rates of intraoperative complications, major and minor postoperative complications, and reoperation were 14.1, 23.4, 29.7, and 26.6%, respectively. The number of comorbidities was associated with a greater risk for perioperative complications in elderly patients (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.1–2.8).
Age is a positive risk factor for major postoperative complications in extensive thoracolumbar spinal fusion surgery. Complication rates in the elderly are high, and good clinical judgment and careful patient selection are needed before performing extensive thoracolumbar reconstruction in older persons.