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Joint Replacement Is Not Fountain-of-Youth Surgery

By May 23, 2010

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According to the New York Times, "Hip and knee replacements have increased dramatically among older patients, statistics from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons show. Between 2002 and 2007, the 65- to 84-year-old population saw a 16 percent increase in hip replacements and an almost 44 percent rise in knee replacements. Among patients over 85, the increases were higher still: 21 percent for hips, 54 percent for knees."

Joint replacement surgery has become safer for various reasons. Consequently, there's no upper limit with regard to the age of a joint replacement patient. But age is not the only consideration. Elderly people tend to have other medical conditions besides arthritis. To be a good candidate for joint replacement surgery, the patient must be in good overall health, must not have risks that outweigh the benefit of surgery, and must be prepared for rehab and the post-op period.

I know an 86 year old woman who had knee replacement surgery last year. She had fractured her hip 2 years prior to that, and needed a walker ever since. Her hope was that the knee surgery would be so successful, she would no longer need her walker. Realistic expectations escaped her -- instead she clung to a dream. You see, her muscles became weaker following the hip fracture and during the 2-year period of declining activity. The knee surgery did completely relieve her knee pain however, so it was a success in that way. But knee surgery cannot solve problems that are unrelated to the knee.

The moral of the story - the best candidate for joint replacement is one with realistic expectations.

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