Patients over age 75 make up more than half of pacemaker surgeries in the United States. Given the increased risk of health problems that seniors face, it’s natural to question whether pacemaker surgery is a good idea for an elderly patient.
Fortunately, studies show that elderly patients do not exhibit a higher relative risk of complications during or after pacemaker surgery. It may take elderly patients a little longer to fully recover after surgery, but that should be expected for any type of surgery for seniors.
Hospital Stay for Pacemaker Surgery
For many patients, pacemaker surgery is a same-day procedure. If your procedure is scheduled in the morning, you may be able to leave the hospital later that day.
In some cases, it may be necessary to spend 1-2 nights in the hospital for additional observation. Beyond that, it’s rare for pacemaker surgery to result in a lengthy hospital stay.
Recovery Time for Pacemaker Surgery
The recovery process varies significantly from case to case. Some patients recover within a few days, others may take months to fully recover.
As for your stitches being removed, it depends on the type of stitches the doctor uses. Some soluble stitches dissolve on their own, while traditional stitches will need to be removed in 7-10 days.
Patients are advised to take 3-7 days off work following pacemaker surgery. In special cases, your cardiologist may advise taking more time off work if they’re concerned that you need more time to take it easy after the surgery.
Most patients are back to their normal routine and daily activities within four weeks of pacemaker surgery. That said, you won’t be allowed to drive for at least six weeks, and you’re advised not to reach up on the side you had the procedure for about 4-6 weeks.
Cardiologists also recommend avoiding sports for 4-6 weeks after pacemaker surgery, especially high-energy activities like tennis or squash.
Check-ups After Pacemaker Surgery
After a successful pacemaker surgery, patients will need to return to the hospital for a checkup in 4-6 weeks. If you report that you don’t feel much better and can’t discern the benefit, the cardiologist or cardiac technician may make small adjustments.
After your initial checkup, you’ll need to have your pacemaker checked every 3-12 months. Your cardiologist will advise you on when to schedule the follow up appointments.
Side Effects of Having a Pacemaker
Complications from pacemaker surgery are uncommon, but you should be on the lookout for any issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, possible complications include:
- Allergic reaction to the anesthesia or dye used in the procedure
- Bleeding, bruising, or swelling at the generator site (especially with blood thinners)
- Blood clots
- Collapsed lung
- Damage to nerves or blood vessels near the pacemaker
- Infection at the surgery site
After pacemaker surgery, patients should call their doctor if they experience any of the following issues:
- Chest pain
- Fever lasting longer than 2-3 days
- Pain, redness, or swelling at the site of the pacemaker
- Prolonged hiccups
- Prolonged weakness
- Swollen arm on the side of the surgery
Patients should also call their cardiologist if their heart rate drops below the lowest setting on their pacemaker, or if they have symptoms of an abnormal heart rhythm.
Special Precautions After Pacemaker Surgery
It’s unlikely that your pacemaker will be affected by electronic devices, but it’s smart to play it safe. Here are a few special precautions to keep in mind regarding electronics after pacemaker surgery.
Don’t store your cell phone in your shirt pocket, and keep your cell phone at least six inches away from your pacemaker. When you’re on the phone, hold it to the ear that’s opposite the side where your pacemaker was implanted.
Medical procedures like CT scans, MRIs, electrocautery, cancer radiation treatment, and shock wave lithotripsy can interfere with your pacemaker. To be safe, be sure to tell your doctor and dentist that you have a pacemaker before any procedures.
You should stand at least two feet away from motor-generator systems, high-voltage transformers, and welding equipment. If your job requires you to be in close contact with power-generating equipment, ask your doctor about arranging a test at your workplace to see if the equipment affects your pacemaker.
Walking through a metal detector or security screening device at the airport shouldn’t affect your pacemaker, but the metal in your pacemaker may set off the device. That said, it’s a good idea to avoid lingering around metal-detection systems to be safe.
To avoid issues with your device setting off security systems, remember to carry your medical ID card at all times and be prepared to present it to security officials at airports and sporting events.
F.A.Q. about Elderly Patients Undergoing a Pacemaker Surgery
Is a pacemaker safe for the elderly?
A recent study posted on Medscape found that elderly patients have a slightly increased risk of early complications after pacemaker surgery. However, the study found that elderly patients had the same general risk profile as younger patients, meaning seniors don’t see a higher relative risk for pacemaker surgery.
This study confirmed the results of a previous study published in 2013, which found that patients over 90 years old did not present a higher risk for pacemaker surgery.
Should a dementia patient get a pacemaker?
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are more likely to get a pacemaker than their peers with similar cardiac issues. According to the article published by the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, the researchers made the following conclusions:
- Patients with dementia were 1.6 times more likely to require a pacemaker
- Patients with mild cognitive impairment were 1.2 times more likely to require a pacemaker
While dementia patients are more likely to require a pacemaker, they do not present an increased risk for complications related to pacemaker surgery.
That said, dementia patients may present a higher risk for surgery in general, such as complications from general anesthesia. As such, dementia patients and their family members should consult with a specialist before making a final decision on any type of surgery.