Medically reviewed by Rodney Alan, M.D. McLeod Orthopaedics
In the past, surgery to replace troublesome knee and hip joints was reserved for folks over 60. Yet, the desire by today’s mature adults to be more active and not surrender to aging has driven up total joint replacements among the 45-60 age group. As we live longer – and try to remain more active – the question arises: How old is TOO old for hip or knee joint replacement? “We do know that osteoarthritis – the primary condition requiring joint replacement — gets worse with age,” says McLeod Orthopedic Specialist Dr. Rodney Alan. “So, the chances of needing surgery increase as we age.”
Considerations for people 75 and older include: 1) the value to the individual’s independence and quality of life, 2) the cost to the patient and society, 3) the length of time a person might benefit from use of the new joint, 4) danger of complications from surgery and 5) whether other health conditions are involved.
Here are three studies that can help clarify these issues.
FOR PEOPLE AGED 75 – 90
A 2010 study found that patients in this group generally benefitted from knee replacement surgery. Of the nearly 4-dozen surveyed, all but one patient believed that having the surgery was the right decision for them. When looking at the benefits and recovery time, researchers found that they were about the same for people over 75 as for those aged 65 – 74.
On average, patients in this age group were up and walking in less than 2 weeks and doing light housework in less than 2 months.
PEOPLE IN THEIR 90s
Hip replacement surgery results for patients in their 90s were comparable to younger patients, according to a study presented to a 2014 meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This, of course, assumes the patient is generally in good health.
Patients in this age group did stay longer in the hospital after surgery and were more likely to be readmitted after 3 months. However, infection rates were no higher than with younger patients.
At age 100, certain higher surgical risks and potentially short life expectancy pose questions that clearly need to be answered on a patient-by-patient basis. The study noted that death rates from hip joint replacement surgery are lower than for other surgeries for people over age 100.
As we get older, it’s not surprising that we might shy away from surgery, worrying about complications and recovery. However, the studies clearly show that elderly people suffering from painful osteoarthritis in knee and hip joints should, at least, discuss the possibility joint replacement with an Orthopedic Specialist.
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Sources include: McLeod Health, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Arthritis Care & Research, Archives of Internal Medicine, Arthritis Foundation, American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation