Sometimes, age really is just a number — and not even the most important one. Take joint replacement surgery. If you’ve been wondering if you’re too old to get your knee or hip replaced, you’re probably asking the wrong question.
“We’re more concerned about a patient’s health over their chronological age,” says Mark Shekhman, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Bone & Joint Institute at Hartford Hospital. “There is no real limit to the age.”
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Dr. Shekhman has reassured plenty of 70- and 80-year-old patients: Not only are they not too old for a joint replacement — they’re in the most common age group.
“Patients in their 70s and 80s are old enough to have worn out their joints, but usually healthy enough to go through surgery,” says Dr. Shekhman.
Even patients in their 90s can be candidates.
Many joint replacement patients in their 90s had passed on the procedure earlier in life, believing they were too old. But after years of severe pain and even disability, they find themselves rethinking their decision.
“Finally they say, ‘I can’t live like this anymore,’” says Dr. Shekhman. “In this case, I recommend that they have a family meeting to discuss the somewhat increased risks given their age. If all family members agree that the benefits outweigh the risks, then we go ahead with the medical screening process.”
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Thanks to medical advances, joint replacements are safer at every age.
Does this all sound too good to be true?
Twenty years ago, maybe. But today, we have the benefit of less invasive techniques and gentler anesthesia methods — which make joint replacements safer than ever.
“With the advancement of medical technology, the surgery is a less physiologically stressful experience for the body than it once was. We’re not replacing major organ systems like the heart or liver,” says Dr. Shekhman. “The risks today are quite low for all age groups.”
The real question: Are you healthy enough to get your hip or knee replaced?
At every age, deciding whether to have an elective procedure comes down to whether you’re healthy enough — even for a relatively low-risk procedure like a joint replacement.
This is where a thorough medical screening process comes in.
“We wouldn’t jump out of a plane without a parachute,” says Dr. Shekhman. “And we wouldn’t proceed with surgery without a thorough screening process to make sure a patient is ready and safe.”
Age is certainly a factor, but it’s far from the only one.
For example, a 60-year-old with a history of smoking, diabetes, obesity and heart disease might have too many health risks to qualify for an elective joint replacement. Meanwhile, a comparatively active and healthy 90-year-old could get the green light.
The takeaway: You’re never too old to ask about a knee or hip replacement.
These surgeries often transform quality of life: They can relieve severe pain from arthritis and other conditions, and return you to activities that mean the most to you. Plus, the benefits are practically immediate.
“The patient can walk on the replaced joint the same day, fully weight-bearing, within a few hours after the operation,” says Dr. Shekhman.
So if you’ve been considering a knee or hip replacement, it’s worth a conversation with your doctor — even if you’re getting up there in years.
Haven’t you heard? Eighty is the new sixty.