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Caregiver 101: How to Help Seniors Recovering from Surgery

Recovering from surgery isn’t easy for the elderly, especially when undergoing invasive procedures such as hip or knee replacements. Older bodies require a much longer healing process compared to young, healthy bodies, and seniors are at higher risk for post-operation complications.

To ensure that your senior heals as fast as possible with minimal discomfort, it’s important to support them both physically and emotionally. Here, we’ll describe a few ways you can help speed up the healing process for your senior while you also make their post-surgery experience better overall:

Create a List of Items Your Senior Will Need

Most people bring home new medications after surgery, but seniors may require additional items. Wheelchairs, hospital beds, compression socks and leg braces are just a few examples of what seniors may need for the recovery process.

Scrambling at the last minute to locate and purchase these items can be stressful. To alleviate unnecessary stress for both of you, talk with the nurses and doctors ahead of time and start making a list of items that your senior will need upon their return home. Some medications can only be picked up at the pharmacy after discharge, but you can get most of the items they will likely need in advance.

Prepare the Home for Their Return  

For a smooth transition home, start re-arranging furniture to make their recovery as easy as possible. You may also want to clean the house prior to their return to remove obstacles and hazards.

Begin clearing pathways and removing any throw rugs or other items that could cause a fall or slip. Remote controls, phones, books and other items that are used frequently should be placed within easy reach.

If your senior lives in a two-story home, consider making them a bed on the main level to avoid the need for climbing stairs. Anything you can do to make maneuvering around their house easier will benefit their recovery.

Lastly, don’t forget to stock the pantry with healthy foods that are easy to prepare. Nutritional, easy-to-make meals will be less tiresome for you to prepare and promote faster wound healing in the patient.

Make Them as Comfortable as Possible

For the elderly, recovery from major surgery can be a slow, frustrating process. To keep them as comfortable as possible during their return home, there are a few things you can do.

If they had knee, ankle or leg surgery, their doctor may have instructed you to elevate their legs. Be warned — although it seems simple, many people elevate the legs improperly and do more damage than good. A leg elevation pillow will guarantee that you elevate your senior’s legs the correct way to help them mend faster.

In addition to making them physically comfortable, don’t forget to offer them emotional comfort as well. A surgery can trigger feelings of helplessness and sadness but grabbing a few of their favorite things — like magazines, movies, special food items that are permitted by doctor — can help boost their morale.

Accompany Them to Follow-Up Appointments

Even if your senior doesn’t have any memory problems, it can be extremely beneficial to accompany them to their follow-up appointments with their doctor. As their caretaker, you may able to fill in any details about their care that they may not remember when the doctor asks them questions.

It’s also helpful to take notes while the doctor is speaking to help your senior remember the most important parts of the conversation. If you have any questions, this is a good time to ask the physician to ensure that your senior is getting the best care possible.

Know Their Limitations

Doing too much too soon after surgery can result in a setback. The healing process is already slow for the elderly — the last thing you want is for them to do something that puts them right back at square one.

The doctor should give you a printout of any restrictions that need to be followed post operation. This may be difficult for some seniors to follow, either because they forget, or they have a self-sufficient attitude.

For example, seniors who undergo cataract surgery should avoid bending over, as this puts too much pressure on the eye. If your senior forgets the doctor’s orders, gently remind her of the doctor’s instructions and offer to complete the task for her.

Be Aware of Hospital Delirium

Even if your senior doesn’t have dementia, he can become confused after surgery. Post-operation delirium is common in older adults, and caregivers should be prepared in case their senior experiences this phenomenon.

If your senior has experienced abnormal confusion in the past, it’s important that you let hospital staff know. Delirium can mean a slower healing time for seniors, and it can be a scary experience to go through.

If delirium occurs, it’s important to be a calm presence in front of your senior. Contact your doctor immediately, and they will identify the triggering factors of your senior’s delirium. Although delirium can take weeks or months to go away, most cases aren’t life-threatening.

Ask for Help When You Need It

If you’re caring for a parent, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. If you feel yourself becoming stressed out and irritable, don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

Professional care workers are available to relieve some of the pressure by caring for your parent while you take a break. This could mean hiring a home health aide or a registered nurse to provide home health care services for your loved one.

Taking care of yourself first is beneficial for both you and your loved one. Seniors are perceptive and may notice your irritability, which can make them feel guilty and potentially slow down the healing process.

Surgery can be tough on anyone, and the increased risk of complications for the elderly make it especially important that they receive proper post-surgery care. Depending on the procedure, you may need to provide additional care for weeks, months or even a year.

Fortunately, there are a few ways that you can promote faster healing and make your senior’s recovery process easier. By using the tips above, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done all you can to make your senior comfortable while they heal.

About Author –

Dr. Chris Dickson is a board-certified vascular surgeon and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. After observing that patients were often found in ineffective positions after surgery, he developed the Lounge Doctor Leg Rest to help encourage them to practice proper recovery positions post-operatively. Dr. Dickson also recommends the Lounge Doctor for leg discomfort, venous problems and even lower back pain.

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