I'm 82-years old and thinking about having spinal surgery. My surgeon has advised me to have a fusion for degenerative scoliosis in my lower back. I just can't help but wonder if I'm too old for this sort of operation. On the other hand, I could live another 20 years. I don't want to suffer 20 more years of back pain. What should I do?

Talk to your surgeon and get his or her perspective. Find out what the chances are for a good outcome. Ask if you have any risk factors that would increase the likelihood of problems after surgery.

Be aware that there are two kinds of complications after surgery. Minor complications do not affect the patient's recovery. Once the problem is corrected, the patient goes on to heal as well as if the problem had never occurred.

Major complications do affect the patient's recovery in a negative way. These type of problems include blood clots, infections, and permanent nerve damage. Some patients may suffer problems breathing and even death as a potential major complication.

Age has been directly linked with increased diseases and other health problems. These are called comorbidities. Heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes are common comorbidities among older adults.

A recent study was done on risk factors and complications after spinal fusion for scoliosis. The results showed that age and comorbidities do not increase the risk for complications. Age by itself is not considered a reason to decline surgery for this problem.

Reference: 

Kyu-Jung Cho, MD, et al. Complications in Posterior Fusion and Instrumentation for Degenerative Lumbar Scoliosis. In Spine. September 15, 2007. Vol. 32. No. 20. Pp. 2232-2237.

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