Joint replacement surgeries: Why do senior citizens hesitate?

Senior knee and hip surgeon, Dr Kaushal Malhan who is attached to Fortis Hospital, Mulund, busts various myths of the elderly, who hesitate to opt for joint replacement surgery and believe in the various myths


The increase in life expectancy, over the years, has resulted in the rise of the population of the elderly. Age and pain go hand in hand, so does the risk of progressively painful health conditions. Today, senior citizens lead an active lifestyle. Some of them are compelled or otherwise even continue to earn a living well beyond the age when people retire.

Nuclear families are becoming the norm, and more and more elderly live on their own. They have little or no support and often need to be healthy enough to continue to look after themselves, and sometimes their dependents.

Non-surgical measures have advanced and can combat the problems amongst the majority of the population. However, some people have severe arthritic knees or hips. These patients cannot manage without an operation. Many surgical techniques have been developed over the last six decades and with great success.

Today, advanced surgery techniques allow less painful, quicker and more precise surgeries. The pain control techniques can eliminate discomfort immediately after surgery. Hospital stay has gone down to a bare minimum, and recovery is quick with advanced rehabilitation.

Despite all these advancements, the elderly still suffer pain and debility, even at the risk of complete dependence but are hesitant to undergo knee and hip replacement surgery!

Here are some myths you should know the facts about; these will help you make the right decision for yourself, your parents or for your grandparents.

Myth: Joint replacement surgeries are painful, post-operatively; painkillers have to be consumed every day.

Fact: Anaesthesia and pain control techniques can allow a painless experience during operation and near painlessness in the post-operative period. The specialised tissue-preserving surgery techniques also help.

Therefore, rehabilitation is rapid, and patients can soon walk post operation. Stair climbing is also possible postoperatively, depending on the patients’ fitness levels.

Myth: You are too old for the surgery; it will not help improve the quality of your life.

Fact: Surgery brings value and is successful even in older patients if they are physiologically well and limited mostly by arthritis. Yes, earlier done the better, but if the patient has good physic, then surgery can be successfully done in older patients.

Myth: You will never get back to normalcy after joint replacement surgery.

Joint replacement is like replacing worn-out tires of a car, which is fine. If done at the right time, it can give excellent results. New techniques and advanced implants brought the joints to function normally after the surgery.

Myth: If you have severe hip arthritis, you are not a candidate for a hip replacement

Fact: Advanced techniques allow satisfactory reconstruction of even the most severely damaged hips.

Myth: Post-op, walkers and walking sticks will have to be used permanently

Fact: Walking aids may be needed initially, depending on the overall health status of the patient. In most cases, these are primarily for balance, and not because the new joint cannot take the load. With recovery, most patients will give up all aid, provided they are otherwise healthy.

Myth: Advanced age will delay recovery, so if you’re above 80 years of age, chances are recovery from the surgery is low

Fact: The physiological age and health status is more important than the numerical age. An elderly may be fitter than the younger one and more suitable for operation. If a person is limited by a bad joint and everything else is reasonable, then there is no reason why he or she will not benefit from joint replacement surgery. Detailed evaluation will be done by your surgeon to ascertain this aspect prior to surgery

Myth: If you suffer from diabetes, hypertension, history of cardiac arrests, you are not a candidate for joint replacement surgery

Fact: Diabetes and hypertension do not rule out a joint replacement. They can be controlled and health optimised for good results. These surgeries can be done safely at any time of the year with good results, provided, good infection control policies and systems are in place.

Myth: Opting for the home or natural remedies is a better option for replacement surgery

Fact: Home remedies may certainly allow you to cope better with the problems of arthritis by reducing pain and discomfort. They will, however, not correct the mechanical problem in the joint.

The joint is mechanically deranged and needs repair, which can only be done by surgery. In the early stages, natural and home remedies may be acceptable, but they will do no good in the late and severely damaged joint.