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Old 05-17-2012, 08:06 PM
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What percentage of people make it to the age of 80 without needing major surgery?

I have numerous long living relatives but as far as I know they've all needed major heart and other organ surgery in order to live as long as they have. Do many people live to a ripe old age with no major health problems and without needing significant surgery?
Old 05-17-2012, 08:48 PM
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My dad is 93 and has never had nor needed major surgery.
Old 05-17-2012, 09:00 PM
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My Dad is 80, and I don't think he's had any major surgery -- mostly skin cancer removals and some tendon issues.

I also have an 82-year-old friend whom I can't recall having any major surgery in the past 20 years. She does have some fairly significant health issues, but they involve a blood disorder that is treated with medication and bloodletting (polycythemia).
Old 05-17-2012, 09:18 PM
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My dad made it to 80 without major surgery of any sort. He had assorted small dents and dings, he lost the tips of a couple fingers in WW2 to the middle of the fingernail as pretty much the most major thing to happen. He had a knee replaced shortly after 85 and stroked out after that, and died about 6 months later of an infection picked up in hospital.
Old 05-17-2012, 09:23 PM
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My mother is 91, and she had arthroscopic knee surgery about four years ago. Nothing else I am aware of.
Old 05-17-2012, 10:18 PM
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My grandmother will be 91 next week.
In her mid 80's, she had some minor breast cancer and both knees replaced.
Old 05-17-2012, 10:24 PM
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Hmm... my dad and both my paternal grandparents lived past 80 without need of major surgery.

I'm hoping to emulate their example.

Last edited by Broomstick; 05-17-2012 at 10:24 PM.
Old 05-17-2012, 10:29 PM
Join Date: Dec 1999
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Mercy, folks, this is not the way to get a factual answer to a statistically-based question.

This PDF article compares the percentages of elderly in 1972 versus in 1981 who got various kinds of major surgery before the age of 75 and after 75. It's not very up-to-date or comprehensive but at least it should give the OP an idea of more or less what percentage of elderly people get what kinds of operations at what point in their old age.
Old 05-17-2012, 10:52 PM
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You have to break it down by specific problem to know how the answers apply to your question. Some humans have always lived into their 80's, 90's. and even older since mankind began. We are a long lived species with some of us more prone to longevity than others just due to genetics and lifestyle.

One of the greatest obstacles to great longevity has generally been early childhood disease, epidemics, and life-threatening accidents. Modern medicine combined good nutrition and sanitation has greatly improved the likelihood of any individual in the first world will make it through life without dying from those. Once those factors are minimized, there a rather small percentage but still huge number of people that can live into their late 80's or much beyond without ever requiring intervention like heart bypass surgery, invasive cancer treatment, organ transplants, or any other radical surgery. Those people may have some procedures like hip replacements done because of quality of life concerns but those aren't strictly necessary to live.

The second group of people are those who would not have lived very long at all because of a defect like a bad heart valve or treatable cancer that can now be fixed. Those can be made to live longer now through intervention and some of those will live well into old age because of modern medicine.

Life expectancy for humans has gone up a lot over the past 200 years and even over the past fifty but the maximum human life span has remained completely fixed at about 120 years since we began. The only difference is the number of people that make it into the extreme ages today. People over 100 years old today however did not have access to the same level of medical care that we do even when they were middle aged or older and many didn't ever have major surgery to save their life. They are just statistical outliers.

My great-great grandfather was one of the last surviving Civil War soldiers and died in 1949 at 100. He probably would have lived longer if he cut down on the lifelong excessive drinking and smoking. He never had surgery and hated doctors. His grandson, my grandfather, is 86 and still runs his own company, drives cross-country, and visits Las Vegas at least three times a year. He sounds like he is 50 years old at most on the phone. He has three older siblings that are the same way. None of them have ever had surgery to fix a life threatening internal issue.

Last edited by Shagnasty; 05-17-2012 at 10:53 PM.
Old 05-17-2012, 11:25 PM
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A lot will depend on how you define major surgery. What about a tonsillectomy, for example?
Old 05-18-2012, 06:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Keeve View Post
A lot will depend on how you define major surgery. What about a tonsillectomy, for example?
Similarly, my mother will be 80 next year. A few years ago she had a knee replacement. The knee replacement was definitely major surgery, and it certainly improved her quality of life, but I see no reason she wouldn't have lived until 80 without it. So how would you count situations like hers?
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Old 05-18-2012, 08:25 AM
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I don't believe any of my grandparents who made it to 80 had any major surgery. Neither has my mother, who will be 81 in a few days.
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Old 05-18-2012, 09:03 AM
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Hmmm... My dad had a stent inserted (which didn't work) then angioplasty, which has been fine for about 15 years. Do you define that as major? They're messing with his heart blood vessels, but the invasiveness factor is pretty low. OTOH, he had the old-fashioned gall bladder surgery 20 years ago, which looks awful but is probably not classified as major in terms of what it affects. Whereas, one of my other family members just had cataract surgery in her late 80's; another insignificant and not invasive procedure, but with a huge quality-of-life benefit.

And I think that is part of what you are going to find - as time goes on, the number of "major" procedures that can be replaced with less invasive ones will expand. Fancier drugs and targetted radiation replace major removal surgery for cancers; heart procedures will be threaded through the blood vessels instead of sawing open the chest. I suspect soon there will be alternative treatments to replace knees and hips instead of ripping it all out and inserting titanium. Who knows what benefits we might gain from stem cells? Gall bladders are now removed with 2 or 3 little holes on the stomach instead of slicing the abdomen wide open.

It's been my rough observation that about half the time, the onset of some major surgery is just the beginning of the end for someone over 80; the whole body is starting to fail, and there's a cascade effect that the person never really recovers from that major crisis that originally landed them in hospital. They may hang on for a few months or even years, but they are not the same independent active person they used to be.

Last edited by md2000; 05-18-2012 at 09:04 AM.

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