Having an elderly loved one undergo surgery, even if it was scheduled far in advance, can be a stressful experience for both them and the whole family. If you’re planning to care for your loved one after the procedure, then preparing ahead of time can make surgery recovery smoother for them as the patient and you as the caregiver. Here are eight tips for caring for your elderly loved ones after surgery:
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Know what to expect during recovery.
Each surgery is different, and so is each patient. Your loved one’s recovery won’t look exactly the same as someone else who gets the same surgery. That’s why it’s so important to communicate with their doctor so you know what to expect after the surgery before they come home in a hospital gown. The surgeon will be able to tell you how long recovery will take and how impaired your loved one’s functioning will be, as well as what warning signs to look out for. They can also give any special directives and let you know if there is anything unusual that you and your loved one need to do in order to prepare for surgery recovery.
Go shopping before the surgery.
Your loved one might need 24/7 monitoring after the surgery, and even if they don’t, getting away from the house for extensive errands might be tough. Make things easier on yourself by doing all your shopping beforehand. Purchase some post-surgery clothing and adjustable shoes that your loved one can wear inside. Go to the grocery store and load up on easy-to-cook or pre-made meals so you don’t have to worry about feeding yourselves for the first few days. If you don’t already have them on hand, get over-the-counter supplies that you might need, such as pain medications, sterile gauze and medical tape. If you forgot something, see if a store in your area offers delivery so you don’t have to go out and leave your loved one by themselves.
Prepare their living space.
Home, especially messy ones, can actually pose a hazard after surgery. Go through your loved one’s home and remove any clutter on the floor that could make them trip: electrical cords, rugs, etc. Install grab bars in the bathroom and get a raised toilet seat to help them use the restroom. Place nightlights at strategic points in case they have to get up in the middle of the night. It may be difficult for them to get in and out of bed at first, so you might have to help them get comfortable on a chair or couch so they can catch some sleep while partially upright.
Follow the doctor’s instructions.
While every surgery is different, most of them do involve some level of wound care and pain management afterward. Follow the doctor’s instructions for taking care of the wound. If you are supposed to wait for the dressing to fall off first, then leave the incision until they are ready. Know the signs of infection so you can stop it early if it happens. Make sure that your loved one also follows the schedule for their prescriptions. Pain medications should be taken right on schedule — no more, no less — to ensure that their pain is under control but they’re not becoming too dependent on the drugs.
Help them eat and stay hydrated.
The anesthesia from surgery can cause constipation and make eating unpleasant. As a result, your loved one might not really want to eat, and their stomach might be rather sensitive to their normal foods. Serve them easy-to-digest food that is high in proteins and nutrients, such as chicken noodle soup and oatmeal. Make sure they are eating enough to keep up their energy. If they aren’t eating enough, their body won’t have the fuel it needs to heal itself. They are also likely to be dehydrated after surgery, so encourage them to drink water with added electrolytes to replenish their lost fluid. If they find it difficult to drink out of a regular cup, get them a lidded travel mug with a straw to make it easier.
Take them to follow-up appointments.
A surgery is just the beginning of a recovery journey. Your loved one will almost certainly have follow-up doctor’s appointments to attend, and possibly ongoing physical therapy as well. They may not be able to drive themselves following a surgery, so try to clear your schedule so you can take them to these appointments. Be an active participant during these appointments if possible, taking notes and asking questions. Your loved one might still be in pain or otherwise mentally preoccupied during the appointments, so having someone else there to keep a record is a huge help.
Be prepared for mood swings.
Surgery isn’t just physically hard — it’s also draining emotionally. Your loved one will likely be fatigued and cranky in the days and possibly weeks following the procedure as they deal with the pain. They may also experience mental side effects of anesthesia, such as becoming foggy and confused. Be patient and supportive, and if their depressive symptoms continue to persist, consider finding them a therapist to help them process their complicated emotions about surgery recovery.
Ask for help.
Caring for a loved one after surgery is a big undertaking, so don’t be afraid to ask other family members for help. Even if they can’t help care for your loved one directly, they might be able to take on chores that usually fall on your shoulders, such as cleaning the house, running errands and taking the kids to school. If your family lives too far away to help in person, then ask if they can contribute financially to hire outside help. While you’re at it, centralize updates on your loved one’s condition in a single text group or email chain so you don’t have to waste time sending duplicate updates to each individual person.
These tips will help you care for your elderly loved one after surgery. We wish your loved one a safe and speedy recovery!