Skip to main content

Health library

Back to health library

Older adults: How to prepare for surgery

A female doctor is talking to an older man.

Age alone isn’t a reason to avoid surgery. In the end, no matter what your age, the most important factor to consider is whether the rewards of surgery outweigh the risks.

If you're an older adult contemplating surgery, you may wonder if your age is something to consider before saying yes to an operation. Before making a decision, consider this: Millions of older adults in the U.S. undergo surgery every year—even elective surgery. So just being a senior isn't, in and of itself, a reason to avoid surgery.

Your overall health is more important than your age when deciding whether to have surgery that isn't for an emergency situation. And there are steps you can take to help improve your health in as little as two days before an operation.

Preparing for surgery

You'll want to be as healthy as you can be before your operation. That means being active, eating healthy foods and getting good sleep.

If you smoke, it's important that you stop—even if it's just a day or two before surgery. Smoking can cause problems with breathing and recovery from anesthesia and surgery.

Talk with your physician prior to the procedure. Surgery can be stressful, so ask them to assess the health of your lungs and heart. Talk to your doctor about the kinds of exercises that would be most helpful in preparing for your operation. The better shape you are in before surgery, the better your chances for a successful outcome.

Let your doctor know all the medications you are using, including over-the-counter drugs and alternative treatments.

Questions to ask

If you have questions or concerns about surgery, it's vital that you talk to your surgeon before you make any decisions.

The American College of Surgeons and other experts suggest that you ask questions such as:

  • What does the surgery entail? Do I need it now or can it wait?
  • Can another treatment be tried instead of surgery?
  • What are the risks associated with this type of surgery?
  • How will the surgery affect my health and lifestyle?
  • What kind of anesthesia will be used? What are the potential side effects and risks of having anesthesia?
  • Will I be in pain? If so, how long will it last? Is there a plan for managing my pain?
  • Will it be an inpatient or outpatient surgery?
  • How soon can I go home after the surgery?
  • What will my recovery be like? How long will it take for me to feel better?
  • What will happen if I don't have surgery?
  • Will I need someone to live with me and take care of me after surgery?
  • What kind of medications will I need to take during recovery? Will new medications interfere with any drugs I'm currently taking?

Since getting so much information can often be overwhelming, it's a good idea to bring someone else along with you when you meet with the surgeon.

Risks and rewards

After you've learned all you can about the surgery you're considering, it's up to you and your loved ones to decide whether the rewards of surgery outweigh the risks. And remember that your age may be a factor, but it isn't the only one to consider.

Test your anesthesia knowledge

How much do you know about anesthesia? Take our quiz to find out.

Reviewed 3/9/2021

Related stories
Top