, Volume 21, Issue 14, pp 895-910
Date: 31 Aug 2012

Regional Anaesthesia in the Elderly

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The number of elderly patients presenting for anaesthesia and surgery has increased exponentially in recent years. Regional anaesthesia is frequently used in elderly patients undergoing surgery. Although the type of anaesthesia (general versus regional anaesthesia) has no substantial effect on perioperative morbidity and mortality in any age group; it intuitively makes sense that elderly patients would benefit from regional anaesthesia because they remain minimally sedated throughout the procedures and awaken with excellent postoperative pain control. However, a multitude of factors influence the outcome, such as the type, duration and invasiveness of the operation, co-existing medical and mental status of the patient and the skill and expertise of the anaesthesiologist and surgeon. These factors make it difficult to decide if and when one technique is equivocally better than another. Thus, it is more important to optimise the overall management of the patient during the perioperative period and, in most cases, it is the quality of the anaesthetic administered rather than the type of anaesthetic which is most important. Sedatives used for regional anaesthesia in the elderly should be short acting, easy to administer, have a low adverse effect profile and high safety margin. Midazolam, lorazepam, ketamine, propofol and low-dose opioids have been successfully used for sedation in the elderly. Aging affects the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of local anaesthetics, composition and characteristics of tissues and organs within the body, and physiological functions of the body. Changes in the systematic absorption, distribution and clearance of local anaesthetics lead to an increased sensitivity, decreased dose requirement and a change in the onset and duration of action in the elderly. Decreases in neural population, neural conduction velocity and inter-Schwann cell distance can lead to an increased sensitivity to local anaesthetics in the elderly. The addition of an opioid and epinephrine (adrenaline) has been shown to be useful in central neuraxial blockade. Epinephrine also can prolong the duration of peripheral nerve blocks. However, caution must be exercised as epinephrine has the potential for causing ischaemic neurotoxicity in peripheral nerves. Regional anaesthesia appears to be safe and beneficial in elderly patients; however, every anaesthetic administered must be assessed on a case-by-case basis and particular consideration should be given to the health status of the patient, the operation being performed and the expertise of the anaesthesiologist.