Caregiving After Major Surgery

Caregiving After Major Surgery

It might be very difficult to hear that your beloved aging spouse or elderly parent needs major surgery. The good news is that your loved one will be coming home after a successful surgery. The challenging news is that you may need to go into caregiving overdrive to help take care of them on their road to recovery.

The recovery journey might feel like a tough road. Sometimes it might feel like you exchanged one set of fears for another, more immediate set of concerns – like what happens if Mom trips and falls when getting out of bed, or what if Dad insists he’s “fine” when you both know he’s really not? Watching a senior loved one struggle with their recovery from major surgery can be both frustrating and heartbreaking.

But the good news is that they have you there to help. There are many ways you can assist your spouse or parent in recovering from major surgery while still keeping your sanity – and maybe even coming out of the experience with a much stronger bond.

Being Present is Key

Though there are many tips for good caregiving that you need to know as your loved one recovers from major surgery, the most important point is also the simplest one: your loved one needs your attention. Not just your attention in terms of caregiving duties, but simply being present for them.

This starts before the surgery. Obviously in the case of emergency surgery, there is very little preparation, if any. But if you do have the heads-up that surgery is required, you can be a stalwart support by encouraging them to keep a positive mindset.

Harvard Health Publishing points out that many studies have proven a link between a positive mindset and better patient outcomes after surgery and other medical procedures.1 Optimism can alleviate some pain, lower blood pressure, lead to less inflammation, and help individuals recover faster than those who approach surgery and other procedures with a negative outlook.

After the surgery is over, be ready to support them with that same upbeat mindset. While they are in the hospital, spend time with them. Talk about things that are pleasant distractions. Watch their favorite television shows with them or listen to podcasts they enjoy. Work crossword puzzles together. Just sitting in companionable silence can allow them to feel your love and support. That good feeling can continue after you come home for the longer part of the recovery process.

Rely on Durable Medical Equipment

When someone is recovering from surgery, mobility issues are almost assuredly going to arise. Even if your spouse or parent had no problem getting around before the surgery, simply walking from the bed to the bathroom or shifting position in bed during the recovery phase can be an enormous challenge.

That’s where durable medical equipment comes in. This can include everything from walkers to a hospital bed that allows them to rest comfortably as they recover. Many pieces of durable medical equipment can be rented for a short period of time, and it might all be covered by Medicare or supplemental Medicare policies.2

This page on Medicare and durable medical equipment coverage may help.

Double-Check Supplies

You probably already have a very good idea of what is necessary to keep your loved one’s schedule running smoothly. But the supplies you need to be an effective caregiver will change, at least for a while, after a major surgery. For instance, if they are going to be on a soft diet for a while, you’ll need to change what you purchase at the grocery store. If you will need to tend to their incision site, you will need the appropriate dressings, cleansers, and protective tape necessary to do the work.

When leaving the hospital, don’t hesitate to ask for anything and everything you need. From adult diapers to extra gauze to numbing swabs, the staff might be more than happy to set you up. This not only ensures you have what you need on hand and eliminates a trip to the pharmacy or store, it can also save you some money.

Now is also a great time to add a medical alert device to your list of must-have supplies. The aftermath of surgery is an especially vulnerable time for seniors, as what their body has been through combined with the new medications they are on can greatly increase their risk of falls and other accidents in the home. And a fall can occur even if you are standing right there next to them.

If that does happen, having the ability to simply press a button and get help can provide incredible peace of mind. It empowers them to reach out for help if you aren’t there at the time. It also allows you to call for help with that push of the panic button, thus freeing you up for the immediate task of taking care of them while you wait for help to arrive. A medical alert pendant or wrist band is a life-saving, peace-giving device at any time, and it’s especially welcome in those difficult days after surgery.

Get the House Ready

Though you probably already have several aging in place home modifications in the house, it’s time to step it up. As we mentioned before, the period after a major surgery is a vulnerable time. Doing all you can to prevent falls and other accidents from occurring can mean the difference between a happy recovery and a tearful trip back to the hospital.

To that end, make sure all clutter is cleaned up around the house. Make sure the lights are bright enough to chase away shadows. Pick up any rugs or other items that could cause a trip hazard. Put all the must-have items on the bedside table to prevent your loved one needing to get up to reach for something. If you have time to install grab bars around the toilet and shower, do it! Every little bit of safety helps right now.

Prep Meals Before the Surgery to Save Time

Well before your parent gets home from the hospital, prepare meals that you can easily heat up. This will save you a great deal of time when you are pressed for it and take the guesswork out of what’s for dinner on any given night. Plan on at least a week’s worth of casseroles and quick crock-pot meals that can sustain those in the household. Keep snacks on hand, too – assuming that their doctor gives the go-ahead.

Need some ideas? Check out this great list of freezer recipes here.

Sort and Organize Medications

Seniors who go through major surgery often have a long list of medications to take as they recover. These can include muscle relaxers, pain relievers, antibiotics, and more. Add that to the medications that many seniors already take and you’ve got quite a handful of pills and maybe even a few injections thrown in for good measure.

This is where a medication dispenser, reminder, and organizer comes in handy. Fill up the dispenser with medication and set the timer to remind you of when it’s time to give your loved one their medication. It’s another peace of mind that frees you up to handle other things and ensures that your spouse or parent never misses a dose of their much-needed medicine.

Enlist Help, Especially at First

Though a family caregiver can handle much of what is necessary to take care of someone after surgery, those first several days can be very tough. Hiring a professional caregiver who has a medical background is never a bad idea. This is especially true if your spouse or parent has gone through the kind of surgery that requires round-the-clock aftercare or ongoing treatments. A professional caregiver can help you find ways to provide pain relief, ensure that you know how to change the dressing on the incision site (if you need to do that), and how to help your loved one move around as easily and safely as possible.

That help can also give you a breather. Taking a respite from your caregiving duties is important at any time, but you will need to be especially gentle with yourself when dealing with the high-stress aftermath of a surgery. Let the professional take over for an hour or so while you take the time to recharge your batteries.

Stay Organized

There is a mountain of paperwork that usually comes along with a hospital discharge after surgery. It can include everything from general information about the patient’s condition to very detailed instructions on how to administer certain medications or treatments at home. You may also be looking at taking your spouse or parent to many appointments in the near future for follow-up after the surgery.

Make lists of the appointments, medications, and instructions. Place reminders around the home to keep you on track. Enlist the help of others to remind you as well. Have a central location for all the information, such as a binder on the kitchen table, where you go back to whenever you have questions. And make sure to keep a pen and paper handy nearby, so that when you call the doctor or speak to a nurse, you can write down all pertinent information.

Remember Your Mental Health

Even if you have been a family caregiver for your spouse or parents for a long while and have most things down to a science, recovery from major surgery is a totally different beast. You can easily be overwhelmed by the new burdens of mobility issues, stronger medications that could change your loved one’s personality, and so much more.

Take some time for yourself, even if you feel as though there just isn’t enough time in the day. Five minutes to take a deep breath and clear your head while your loved one is sleeping, ten minutes in the shower while you think through the day, or just a little while of holding their hand while you both take a nap can work wonders for your mental health.

Now is the time to reach out to family and friends who can help you. If someone asks what they can do to help, tell them! Request a frozen meal for the household, ask them to walk the dog, or simply suggest that they sit with your loved one for an hour while you run errands. You might be surprised at just how readily well-meaning friends and family will jump at the chance to take some of the burden from your shoulders. Alert1 Medical Alert Systems offers a variety of emergency button alerts that can summon help 24/7 at the press of a button, giving peace of mind to the whole family during this challenging time and beyond.