A recent article titled, "Baby Boomers Flock to Get Knee Replacements" caught my attention as my mom, who missed the “official” baby boomer designation by 2 years, recently went through knee replacement surgery and is facing a second one in the near future. It appears she is definitely not alone.
The article discusses a recent National Hospital Discharge Survey that reviewed knee replacements performed between 2000 and 2010, and found that knee replacement surgery nearly doubled during that time. According to the survey, knee replacement surgery was the leading inpatient surgery performed in 2010 by people age 45 and over.
Why are the numbers increasing? One reason is people aren’t waiting as long to get the knee replacement surgery done. Previously, (and as was the case with my mom) doctors would urge waiting to do the surgery until the last possible minute, often after the pain became debilitating. The new attitude among doctors performing knee replacements is to perform them sooner to avoid debilitation and to allow those receiving the surgery to maintain their activity level.
Baby boomers are also demanding surgery earlier as they want to remain active as they get older. Dr. Eric Grossman, co-director of joint replacement surgery at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y, states, "Patients today are unyielding in their desire to continue to be active and maintain a physically vivacious life. For patients with severe, debilitating arthritis, a total knee replacement can reliably achieve significant improvements in a patient's pain and functional level, including returning to walking, cycling, tennis, golf, and skiing among other activities.”
Thankfully, improvements in the surgery itself are allowing patients to recover faster, and spend less time in the hospital. Time in the hospital used to be weeks following knee replacement surgery, and is now typically 1-3 days.
It will be interesting to see how the rise in knee replacement surgery will impact insurance rates going forward. Furthermore, how well will a patient respond when a second replacement is needed after the joint wears out – usually between 10 and 15 years – and will this increase the need for longer hospital stays or longer rehabilitation when 80 and 90 year olds are receiving their second (or third) knee replacement? All interesting questions that make it even more exciting to serve our baby boomer population.