Plastic Surgery at 85? Why More and More Senior Citizens Are Getting Cosmetic Procedures

Jager Weatherby on 8 Apr 2015 at 5:00pm

Seniors and Cosmetic Surgery

Forget bingo nights and the early bird special: These days, senior citizens are more active and energetic than ever. Those over 65 are leading rich lives full of work, hobbies, and travel, and many are looking for a little help to match how they feel with how they look.

“I [did] not feel my age and I [found] it frustrating to have all these skin bulges hanging down,” says RealSelf user  Cynthia.* “I’d thought about a tummy tuck before, but I always thought it would be too expensive and put the thought aside. But I started thinking about it again and began laying a foundation for something that had only been a dream.”

After many months of research and planning, Cynthia finally had her tummy tuck in August 2014. “I’m feeling blessed!” she explains. “I’ve gone from wearing sizes 14-16 to a size 10! My granddaughter, a college woman in her 20s, commented that I look like I am in my 30s. I'll definitely take that compliment, especially since I’m about to turn 67!”

ASAPS dataCynthia isn’t alone. She’s just one of many in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s who are looking to enhance their golden years with a cosmetic procedure. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), more than 1 million surgical and non-surgical treatments were performed on the 65 and older set in 2014. It’s a number that’s grown 63% in the last five years, and nearly 320% in the last 15. And while every age group over 18 has seen an increase in the number of treatments being performed, the 65 and older demographic is the only one to see a steady growth in market share since 2005. The age group made up 10.4% of the total procedures in 2014, compared to just 4.6% in 2005.

Of the procedures that are the most popular among senior citizens, it’s no surprise that age-reversing treatments like facelifts and eyelid surgery take the top spots. What is surprising, however, is the growth in popularity for elective treatments of all kinds. As reported by ASAPS, breast augmentation is up nearly 30% in the last five years. Botox has increased 97% in the same amount of time, while rhinoplasty has seen staggering growth of 343%.

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“I've definitely seen an increase in older adults for all types of plastic surgery,” reveals Cynthia’s plastic surgeon, Top Doctor Michael Hopkins. “To me, the reason seems pretty straightforward. People are living longer and are in better health. Many boomers and older adults are exercising on a regular basis and trying to stay fit. All of us want to look as good as we feel. This group is really no different than their younger counterparts.”

Nadine Facelift“I looked in the mirror one day and said, ‘What the hell happened to me?’” says RealSelf user Nadine, who's now 67 years old. “I decided to go forward with a facelift in 2013. I have to say, I went into that surgery feeling like [my surgeon’s] mother and came out feeling like his sister.”

Nadine says she looks so natural after surgery, that it’s changed the way she feels about herself psychologically: “Instead of feeling all worn out, I have a new vivacious spirit.”

That reinvigorated attitude can have a positive effect in other areas of life, as well. As people continue to live longer, many work later into their lives. Some, as The Washington Times reported in March of this year, are using plastic surgery as a way to help them feel confident and competent in the job market.

“My job demands high energy,” says RealSelf user Peg, who got a mini lift in 2009. “I feel that with this procedure, I have made myself physically competitive in the job market and now look the way I truly feel: an active, high energy, professional woman!”

For others, especially those who have gone through divorce or suffered the death of a spouse, plastic surgery has allowed them to feel attractive again as they rejoin the dating world.

Leiko QuoteRealSelf user Leiko is one of thousands of women who’s undergone vaginoplasty after divorcing her husband of many years. “I’m in my 60s and still wanted to have great sex before I got too old to even care,” she says. “I began dating again and of course had sex, but I felt self-conscious. I wasn’t willing to have my final experiences be less than they could be … I’m happy I had it done and would do it again.”

But with more and more older consumers getting plastic surgery, there’s been growing concern about the safety of these procedures —even among those who are considering them themselves.

“At 65, I feel I’m too old to undergo a procedure like this,” shared RealSelf user Lisa,* who scheduled her breast augmentation for the end of 2014. “I’m scared about so many things that could happen. I worry about anesthesia, neurosis, that the mammograms won’t show cancerous situations. On the other hand, I’ve wanted this for a long time.”

Five years ago, Dr. Hopkins treated the oldest patient he’s ever had, an 85-year-old woman who wanted to correct sagging skin on her neck. “She told me that everyone in her family lives to 100, so she wanted to look good for the next 15 years. Her surgery went well and she continues to be in good health.”

Having good health prior to surgery is key to performing these procedures, adds Dr. Hopkins. “As with any surgery, and especially elective surgery, it’s mandatory for the surgeon to do a good medical workup before deciding to operate on any individual,” he says. “Just because a person is older, it doesn't mean they’re in poor health. I’ve met individuals younger than 50 who are not healthy enough for surgery. It’s not about physical age, but about physiological age.”

Hopkins Quote

There are surprisingly few studies that explore the effects of plastic surgery on older patients, yet those that do show no significant difference in complications between those younger and older than 65. In a recent study, conducted at Vanderbilt University, doctors analyzed more than 129,000 patients of all ages during a five-year period and found that the rate of complications among the older set was 1.94%, compared to 1.84% for the younger group.

“I think the question [about age] comes up because it’s elective surgery,” says Dr. Hopkins. “We don't tend to ask this question if it were open heart surgery or if a woman wanted reconstructive breast surgery after mastectomy. The issues are not that different. It’s still about patient selection and matching the appropriate surgical procedure.”

However, Dr. Hopkins says there are some precautions to keep in mind when operating on older individuals. “I think we just have to be a little more careful, both in selecting who may be a good candidate and in their care during surgery,” he says. “In general, I try to do smaller or shorter procedures for these patients. This group tends to do well overall, but they’re less tolerant of complications. They can deteriorate physiologically much easier than a younger patient, and they tend not to recover from complications as well.”

That said, he does see benefits to undergoing a procedure later in life. “I’ve noticed that older patients seem to have less pain after surgery,” says Dr. Hopkins. “Or maybe they just tolerate it better. They also seem to be very realistic about what can be achieved with cosmetic surgery.”

RealSelf user Phyllis says she thought about breast augmentation for 40 years before finally getting the procedure at the end of last year. “I encourage [anyone] — if you’re considering breast augmentation or having a procedure done to your face, whatever. It can give you a better outlook on life. It gives you confidence that you didn’t have before. You’re never too old to do something for yourself if it makes you feel good.”

* Name changed