Many elderly individuals find that as they grow older their bodies don't always work as well as they once did. New aches and pains pop up every day, eyesight begins to fade and cognitive function worsens, making it difficult for many older adults to continue to participate in the activities they love. Fortunately, medical advancements are made everyday that can help improve bodily functions, and keep you more active well into your golden years. However, it can be difficult to decide the best time to seek such medical interventions, especially when it comes to invasive surgical procedures such as knee replacements.

Knee replacements among seniors have become increasingly more common over the past decade, and statistics suggest that more than 600,000 Americans underwent knee replacement surgery this past year alone. Most experts believe this rising trend is due to the fact that more baby boomers are reaching retirement age, and wish to maintain their mobility after they've stopped working. Ten years ago, such procedures were reserved only for late-stage arthritis patients who would otherwise be confined to a wheelchair, but now doctors are becoming more confident in replacement joints and believe they could help aging individuals maintain their active lifestyle for longer periods of time.

All surgical procedures have a certain risk of unforeseen complications, and knee replacements in particular come with a veritable mountain of rehabilitation struggles and challenges. The question that you have to ask yourself is: When is the right time for a knee replacement? Can you deal with the pain a little longer or is now the right time to chop out and replace that arthritic mass of gnarled bone and scrappy cartilage?

When to schedule your surgery
While nobody but you can adequately determine the right time for a knee replacement, a few tips may help steer you toward your decision.

  • When traditional therapeutic practices, such as massages, acupuncture, pain medications or chiropractic work, no longer alleviate the constant pain and suffering of knee pain, you might want to consider replacement surgery.
  • If chronic joint pain is causing you to pass up the opportunity to play a round at the golf course, enjoy a night on the town with your husband or wife or even get off the couch, it might be time for a knee replacement.
  • If you are woken up during the night because of excruciating pain in your knees, well, you get the idea.

Expectations: before and after surgery

  • First off, don't just settle on the first orthopedic surgeon you find. Do your homework and research all the surgeons in your area who are capable of performing knee replacement surgery. Even if your pain is so intense that you can't go another day without replacement surgery, you might be worse off after the procedure if your choice proves to be a bad one. Seek out doctors or hospitals that have the most experience performing this type of surgery. A solid choice would be any orthopedic surgeon who performs more than 50 knee replacements annually.
  • If both of your knees are in need of a replacement, most doctors agree that you should only do one at a time. While it may be tempting to get both knees done in one fell swoop, it will make your rehabilitation period much longer and much more difficult. Stick to one at a time for the best chance of success.
  • Knee replacements are not cheap procedures, and most doctors and hospitals charge around $50,000 for just one knee! While Medicare or a private insurance plan will cover the majority of that cost, you'll want to make sure that your doctor doesn't have to go back in and make touch ups on a botched job. It could lead to some difficult financial issues.
  • Rehabilitation is not going to be a cakewalk, it is going to be really hard work. You'll likely begin almost immediately after your surgery, with your first physical therapy session less than 24-hours after your release from an outpatient facility. Just remember to stick with it and try not to over-exert yourself performing exercises you aren't ready for yet. Take it slow, but really put in your best effort.
  • The pain will be intense once the local anesthetic from surgery wears off, but remember that it will only last for a short period of time. Most patients are weaned off of narcotic painkillers around one to two weeks after their procedure. In addition, over-the-counter painkillers can be almost as effective as prescription varieties, so relief will be easy to come by.
  • Artificial knees do not last forever, but you should be able to get a solid 15 to 20 years out of most varieties. Keep in mind that while the initial pain and rehabilitation periods may be a drag, this procedure has one of the highest satisfaction rates among patients, because it allows them to participate in activities again.