Decompressive surgery can be life saving after malignant cerebral infarction. However, severe residual disability occurs in a significant number of surviving patients. Most discussion about the benefits of surgery is based on studies performed in patients who are ≤ 60 years of age. Less is known about the benefits of the procedure in the elderly population. The authors undertook a review of the literature on decompressive craniectomy for malignant cerebral infarction and compared the mortality and outcome data published in patients older and younger than 60 years of age. The authors discuss their analysis, with specific reference to the limitations of the studies analyzed, the outcome measures used, and the special considerations required when discussing stroke recovery in the elderly.
Studies on decompressive craniectomy for malignant middle cerebral artery infarction reported in the English literature were analyzed. A cutoff point for age of > 60 or ≤ 60 years was set, and the study population was segregated. No studies specifically analyzed patients > 60 years old. A total of 19 studies was identified, 10 of which included patients who were > 60 years of age. A comparison between the 2 age groups was made within the 10 studies and also among all the patients in the 19 studies. Mortality rates and outcome scores were assessed for each study, and a Barthel Index (BI) score of < 60 or a modified Rankin Scale (mRS) score of > 3 was considered to represent a poor outcome. Rates were compared using the Fisher exact test, and p values < 0.05 were considered statistically significant.
Nineteen studies were found, which included 273 patients undergoing decompressive craniectomy for malignant cerebral infarcts. Ten of these studies included 73 patients (26.7%) who were > 60 years of age. The mean follow-up times ranged from 5.75 to 12.3 months in the > 60-years group and 4.2 to 28 months in the ≤ 60-years group. The mortality rate was significantly higher, at 51.3% in the > 60-years group (37 of 72 patients) compared with 20.8% (41 of 197 patients) in the ≤ 60-years group (p < 0.0001). Similarly, patients who survived in the > 60-years group had significantly higher rates of poor outcomes, at 81.8% (27 of 33), compared with 33.1% (47 of 142) in the ≤ 60-year-old group (p < 0.0001). The BI was the most commonly used primary outcome measure (15 out of 19 studies), followed by the mRS score, which was used in 4 studies.
The mortality rate and functional outcome, as measured by the BI and mRS, were significantly worse in patients > 60 years of age following decompressive craniectomy for malignant infarction. Age is an important factor to consider in patient selection for surgery. However, cautious interpretation of the results is required because the outcome scores that were used only measure physical disability, whereas other factors, including psychosocial, financial, and caregiver burden, should be considered in addition to age alone.