Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an elective procedure that can dramatically enhance quality of life. Because DBS is not considered lifesaving, it is important that providers produce consistently good outcomes, and one factor they usually consider is patient age. While older age may be a relative contraindication for some elective surgeries, the progressive nature of movement disorders treated with DBS may suggest that older patients stand to benefit substantially from surgery. To better understand the risks of treating patients of advanced age with DBS, this study compares perioperative complication rates in patients ≥ 75 to those < 75 years old.
Patients undergoing DBS surgery for various indications by a single surgeon (May 2013–July 2019) were stratified into elderly (age ≥ 75 years) and younger (age < 75 years) cohorts. The risks of common perioperative complications and various outcome measures were compared between the two age groups using risk ratios (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).
A total of 861 patients were available for analysis: 179 (21%) were ≥ 75 years old and 682 (79%) were < 75 years old (p < 0.001). Patients ≥ 75 years old, compared with those < 75 years old, did not have significantly different RRs (95% CIs) of seizure (RR 0.4, 95% CI 0.1–3.3), cerebrovascular accident (RR 1.9, 95% CI 0.4–10.3), readmission within 90 days of discharge (RR 1.22, 95% CI 0.8–1.8), explantation due to infection (RR 2.5, 95% CI 0.4–15.1), or surgical revision (for lead, RR 2.5, 95% CI 0.4–15.1; for internal pulse generator, RR 3.8, 95% CI 0.2–61.7). Although the risk of postoperative intracranial bleeding was higher in the elderly group (6.1%) than in the younger group (3.1%), this difference was not statistically significant (p = 0.06). However, patients ≥ 75 years old did have significantly increased risk of altered mental status (RR 2.5, 95% CI 1.6–4.0), experiencing more than a 1-night stay (RR 1.7, 95% CI 1.4–2.0), and urinary retention (RR 2.3, 95% CI 1.2–4.2; p = 0.009).
Although elderly patients had higher risks of certain outcome measures than younger patients, this study showed that elderly patients undergoing DBS for movement disorders did not have an increased risk of more serious complications, such as intracranial hemorrhage, infection, or readmission. Advanced age alone should not be considered a contraindication for DBS.