Nip-tuck for seniors

Nip-tuck for seniors

Cosmetic surgery, often associated with celebrities, is fast acquiring a new and loyal constituency in India - senior citizens.

Not content with growing old "gracefully", 60-plus parents and even grannies and grand-dads are shaving years off their faces and bodies by going under the knife.

This was the case with a 55-year-old businessman who recently underwent cosmetic surgery at Mumbai's Breach Candy Hospital. What propelled the tycoon to go in for "facial rejuvenation" (a euphemism for a facelift) was his 24-year-old son's insistence that his dad look younger and re-marry!

"After his mother's death a year back, the son was keen that his father re-marry," Dr Mohan Thomas, the senior cosmetic surgeon at Breach Candy Hospital who performed the operation, told journalists. "Before starting the bride search, he wanted his father to improve his appearance."

Plastic surgeon Dr Anil Tibrewala of Hinduja Hospital, too, says he performed a facelift on a 73-year-old, high society male recently.

Overall, Indian surgeons and cosmetologists report a sharp upswing in the number of senior citizens going in for "lifts" and botox treatments. Women usually want face, eye and breast lifts, they say, while men plump for liposuction on their love handles, tummy tucks and hip reduction.

"Face and eye lifts are among the most popular surgical procedures for those who are 65 and over, but Botox injections, which are less invasive, are at the top," reveals cosmetologist Dr Pratibha Khanduja of Kaya Skin Clinic, one of India's premier skin and hair clinics.

Examples abound. For instance, Nidhi Baweja (name changed on request), 53, didn't celebrate her husband's elevation as the CEO of a multinational corporation with a family get-together or a holiday. Instead, the savvy woman made an unusual request to her rich husband: "Please fund my nose job!"

Similarly, Anil Tewari, in his mid-50s, prepared for his daughter's wedding with a visit to a city-based surgeon to address the crow's feet around his eyes, the frown lines on his forehead and grooves near his lips. They all disappeared with botox shots and fillers.

Dr Sunil Khetrapal, a Delhi-based cosmetologist, was approached by a 60-year-old mother who he says wanted breast reduction surgery. "She had been embarrassed about it for decades but had only now gathered the courage to go under the knife," he says.

There is no denying that aesthetic surgery is gathering momentum even amongst those who have entered their golden years. What is the reason behind India's elderly - who until recently were content to lead lives of retirement and play doting grandparents - going in for surgical enhancement of their looks?

"People are living far longer," says sociologist Dr Sunita Khandekar. "They're living healthier lives and don't perceive themselves as being old. Also, with a perceptible increase in life expectancy, elderly Indians are keen to live their lives to the fullest by improving their appearances and marrying in their 70s and 80s."


Life expectancy in India has ratcheted up from 45 years in the 1960s to 70 years now, according to the latest census. Moreover, ego, a longer life span and a better quality of life are pushing senior citizens to re-assess their long-term goals. They are no longer willing to live in the shadow of their family and are thus seeking a more fulfilling lifestyle for themselves.

Higher income and heftier savings are also propelling people to invest in their looks.

"However, some of them make unrealistic demands and expect me to work miracles in days," shares Dr. Khetrapal. "I hear them out, tell them what I can do and leave the decision to them."

Intriguingly, the surgery in many cases is on the insistence of the senior citizen's kids.

"Older people do not know about the availability of world-class procedures in India and their affordability. We have seen sons and daughters bringing their parents in for discussion about possible improvements," says Dr. Khetrapal.

According to dermatologist Dr Shailesh Sood, elderly Indians are finding role models amongst older celebrities, particularly Bollywood actors.

"People see Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, who is pushing 70, looking great. So they want to go for plastic surgery!" says the doctor.

The field of cosmetic procedures is growing fast in India. The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery placed India after the US, Brazil and China in terms of the number of procedures performed every year. Dermatologist Dr Rekha Seth, founder of the Cosmetic Dermatologists Society (India), says nearly 50 per cent of her clients are in the 50-plus age group.

"People nowadays know that they can do something to check aging. And they're keen to explore those possibilities," she says.

However, doctors concede that the trend also has much to do with a deep-rooted anxiety that most people live with - that they are not good enough. Images endorsed by the beauty and fashion industry make matters worse.

Despite the euphoria over surgery dramatically enhancing looks, doctors warn senior citizens who are considering such procedures to think things through. Medications and health conditions, they iterate, can have a serious effect on cosmetic surgery.

Patients must first understand the risks and complications that accompany each procedure. Before a patient commits to a procedure, he or she should be fully aware of the details of the operation, including recovery time and psychological effects, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

"Some patients are hardly aware of the failure rate of surgeries and the possibility of things going wrong," cautions Dr. Sood.

Be that as it may, mother-daughter duos and father-son duos coming in for cosmetic surgeries together form a fast-rising segment.

"It's heartening to see a rising number of older people coming for cosmetic surgery because of their children," adds Dr. Khetrapal who receives a steady stream of older customers. Would the good doctor treat a person of any age who was keen on surgery?

"People have to be medically fit and healthy. I don't think age ought to be a deterrent to surgery," he concludes.

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