As increasing numbers of older adults make a determined effort to lead healthy, active lives, they're opting for something that will help them look as young as they feel. Just ask Barbara Closman, who decided to have a facelift at age 70. Closman is part of a growing number of people over 65 choosing cosmetic surgery to improve the way they look. In fact, the number of procedures performed on adults in this age group has increased 352 percent in the last five years, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Lyle Leipziger, MD, chief of plastic surgery at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center, says a facelift can dramatically improve one's appearance and boost self-confidence in people of all ages. Although there are special considerations for older adults, advanced age, in itself, does not preclude cosmetic procedures.
"The first question: is the patient's general health good? Older adults tend to have more health problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and these patients must have a complete medical work-up before undergoing any type of elective surgery," he says. Medication is another consideration. Since older adults tend to take more medicines, Dr. Leipziger determines whether any of them would interfere with surgery.
In most cases, a patient's health is more important than her age. Ms. Closman, who eats right and exercises three times a week, was an excellent candidate for cosmetic surgery. Another plus: she had thought long and hard before deciding to have a facelift and did a lot of research to make sure she knew what to expect. It would be the first time the Bayside resident would have surgery. She had never even been in the hospital, except to give birth.
Ms.Closman consulted numerous plastic surgeons before she chose Dr. Leipziger, the one with whom she felt most comfortable. "It really is a big step to put your face in someone's hands, so trust and rapport is very important," she said.
"Ms. Closman is an ideal patient in the sense that she enjoys good health, she did her homework, was sure of what she wanted and had realistic expectations," according to Dr. Leipziger.
Seven months after the procedure, Ms. Closman says she is delighted with the results and has a renewed passion for living. "I not only look younger, but I feel younger. I'm enjoying the attention and compliments I'm getting, too."
Dr. Leipziger offers the following advice for older adults considering cosmetic surgery:
* Make sure you're in good health. If someone has high blood pressure, for example, changes in diet or medication may be necessary to bring it down to a good level before any procedure can be performed.
* Have realistic expectations. Although a facelift can bring dramatic improvement, skin elasticity diminishes as we age, so the procedure may not bring the same results as it would in a younger person or in someone who has had a prior facelift.
* For eyelid surgery, tissue removal may need to be more conservative, since older patients have a greater tendency to develop "dry eye."
* Keep in mind that the recovery period may be longer. Patients 65 and older may take slightly longer to recover than younger people undergoing similar procedures. Bruising may take several extra days to go away, and incisions may also take longer to heal.
* Find a Board-certified physician with whom you feel comfortable. Anyone considering cosmetic surgery should always look for a physician who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and affiliated with a major teaching hospital. People may be able to find a doctor based on recommendations from friends or a family doctor. Once they find a plastic surgeon, they should feel comfortable with the doctor and make sure he or she is willing to take the time to answer all of their questions.
Dr. Leipziger says various factors may motivate older adults to have cosmetic surgery. Many people have active social lives or decide to resume dating and feel that looking younger and better will give them a psychological boost.
Others want to maintain their competitive edge in the job market or even re-enter it, and they feel looking more vibrant and refreshed will help.
"Age is relative, and many people want to look their best no matter how old they are," says Dr. Leipziger. He expects that as life-expectancy increases and more people live longer, the number of those having cosmetic surgery later in life will continue to rise. For more information, please call Dr. Leipziger's office: 516-465-8787.