How Old Is Too Old To Have Knee Replacement

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Not long ago there was widespread belief that total knee replacement surgery was for patients ages 60 to 75. This was a common age when people “wore out” their knee but they were still young enough to heal quickly after surgery.

More recently, the desire for older adults to be more active and not surrender to aging has seen younger people in the 45- 60 age group opt for knee replacement surgery (TKR).

Improved technology has allowed for patients who are older (80 and up) to receive TKR as well.

This article will focus on knee replacement for the “elderly”.

With improvements in anesthesia, general health care, and surgical techniques, knee replacement surgery has become widely accepted for elderly patients, including those over 80.

Osteoarthritis is the primary condition requiring knee replacement surgery, and it tends to get worse with age.

People are living longer and many of us want to remain active and have a good quality of life.  There are many things to consider before we decide to have TKR, but it’s an even more important decision for patients over 80.

My Decision With Surgery and Age 

I opted to have TKR at age 67 for a couple of reasons.

  • One, I wanted to have a pain free knee that allowed me to remain active an improve my quality of life. I lived with the pain as long as I could.
  • Two, I wanted the new knee to last my lifetime, hoping that a second knee replacement would not be necessary.

I felt that this age was the sweet-spot for me. I was tired of living with pain in my knee and I was still young enough to be mobile and remain active (read my article about my knee replacement decision).

If I would have waited longer, I may have resigned myself to a more sedentary lifestyle, and I believe the recovery timeline may have increased (harder to bounce back after surgery).

Age, Health And Other Considerations For TKR Surgery

There are no absolute age restrictions for knee replacement surgery. Recommendations for knee surgery are based on a patient’s pain and disability, not age.

Most patients who have total knee replacement are between the ages of 50-80, but orthopedic surgeons evaluate patients individually. Physicians are far more interested in the overall health of an individual rather than the age of the person.

Considerations for elderly patients include:

  • Value of an individual’s independence
  • Current quality of life
  • Length of time a person might benefit from the use of a a new knee
  • Danger of complications from surgery,
  • Other existing health concerns.
  • Current health status is the primary criteria for TKR.
  • Physical strength will also be evaluated to ensure you can manage the rehabilitation process.
  • Cognitive function will also be evaluated to ensure you have the capacity to see the recovery process through.

Factors That May Exclude You From TKR Surgery

As I mentioned above, doctors are more concerned about your overall health than your age. You may have severe osteoarthritis that makes it impossible to perform the surgery because the bones are too brittle to support the new joint.

If you have an existing infection or health condition, surgery may be too big a risk for you. Obesity may also be a factor in your assessment. If you are unable to lift yourself for example you may not be able to adequately participate in physical therapy (this is why I always recommend weight management prior to surgery).

Another consideration is that you may need someone that will assist you during your recovery and rehabilitation. This could be family or friends or staff at an assisted living center (how to prepare your home for knee replacement surgery).

Ultimately Knee Replacement Surgery Is A Personal Decision To Make With Your Doctor

Elderly people may shy away from any surgery, especially elective surgery. If you are suffering from painful osteoarthritis in your knee, you should at the very least discuss the possibility of knee replacement with an orthopedic specialist and with your family.

There are no absolute age restrictions for knee replacement surgery. Remember that doctor’s are more interested in your overall health rather than your age.

If you are experiencing severe pain but are generally healthy and active, surgery might be right for you. In the end, the decision is yours!