OLDER PATIENTS BENEFIT FROM MODIFIED COSMETIC PLASTIC SURGERY TECHNIQUES
Women and men age 65 and older accounted for 7 percent of cosmetic procedures performed in 2000, and the number of procedures performed on people in this age group has increased 352 percent since 1997, according to statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS). Plastic surgeons say that there are special considerations when performing cosmetic surgery on older adults but that age, in itself, is not a contraindication to surgery.
Skin elasticity, which gradually diminishes as we age, is one of the primary factors affecting the quality and longevity of results from many cosmetic surgeries. “Patients who wait until relatively late in life for their first facelift or body contouring procedure may have a very extreme amount of tissue to be removed or tightened,” says Malcolm Paul, MD, president of ASAPS, the leading professional society of board-certified plastic surgeons who specialize in cosmetic surgery. “With one operation, we may not be able to achieve quite the same result as we could with a younger patient or someone who has had a previous surgery, but improvements can still be very dramatic.”
Surgical techniques may sometimes need to be altered for the older adult. For example, when a facelift is performed on someone with thinning hair, the incisions may be placed to better camouflage the scars.
Older patients who have a facelift may choose to have their earlobes reduced at the same time. “This is because the earlobe grows and stretches with aging, and it may look out of proportion after the facial tissues have been tightened,” says Dr. Paul.
For eyelid surgery, tissue removal may need to be more conservative, since older patients have a greater tendency to develop “dry eye.” For facial peels, several mild peels may sometimes be preferable to a deep chemical peel, since an older adult’s skin is significantly thinner.
Older patients who undergo lipoplasty (liposuction) in the abdominal area often will require a modified tummy tuck to get rid of excess skin that has lost its elasticity.
For older patients with certain types of medical conditions, extra precautions may be advisable to ensure safety. These can include additional medical personnel or, in some cases, having their surgery in a hospital setting. When special accommodations are necessary, patients must understand that the overall cost of surgery will increase.
Recovery periods for patients 65 and older may be slightly longer than for younger people undergoing similar procedures. Bruising may take several extra days to subside, and healing of incisions may also take longer.
There is generally a high level of satisfaction among older patients undergoing cosmetic plastic surgery, says Dr. Paul. “Most often, older patients say that the surgery has given them a psychological boost.” In addition, he adds, some adults over 65 who are retired say they plan to re-enter the job market. They have active social lives and may be seeking new marriage partners.
As our life expectancy continues to increase, having cosmetic surgery in our 70s and 80s will become increasingly common. “People today see no reason to age in the traditional way,” says Dr. Paul. “They want to look their best at every age, and cosmetic surgery can help them do that.”