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Risks, complications of surgery for seniors

July 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Zsa Zsa Gabor's publicist says the actress is doing well after getting hip replacement surgery Monday. Her ordeal makes people wonder if it's safe for a 93-year-old to undergo such a major surgical procedure. Did Gabor really have to have surgery? In her case, doctors say it was her best option.Zsa Zsa Gabor's daughter reports the 93-year-old actress is conscious and strong following hip replacement surgery.

"Her prognosis is probably pretty good," said Huntington Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Paul Gilbert.

Dr. Gilbert says he's operated on patients as old as 106, so hip replacements on people in their 90s is not unusual.

On Saturday night, Gabor broke her hip after reaching for her phone and falling out of bed. She has been partially paralyzed since a car accident in 2002. Dr. Gilbert says immobility weakens bones.

"The biggest risk factors are age, female and lack of activity," said Dr. Gilbert. "The less active you are the weaker your bones become. With weaker bones and weaker muscles you are more likely to fracture."

When an elderly person breaks her hip, they have few options. They can do nothing. A fracture has a 70 percent chance of healing on its own. Or doctors can try to stabilize the joint using screws, but both leave the patient at risk for a serious condition.

Without surgery Gabor would have suffered intense pain every time she tried to move. If a patient is strong enough, surgery is the best option. Thanks to new techniques, a hip replacement can be performed through very small incisions.

"These can be done through a 3 inch incision, a little muscle dissection deep down," said Dr. Gilbert. "It is actually a very quick procedure."

Gabor is expected to remain at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for four to five days. Dr. Gilbert says that's a typical recovery. He says the best way for the elderly to avoid breaking a hip is to remain active.

"Fractures are going to occur, especially in the elderly, and know there are options out there for them to get better and get back up on their feet again," said Dr. Gilbert.

Because of the way your hip is structured, every one pound of added body weight actually adds three pounds of stress to the hip joint. So doctors suggest that if you're a hip replacement patient, you watch your weight to make the new hip joint work better and last longer.


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