Joint replacement may seem like an “old person” surgery, but creaky knees know no age! In fact, I can distinctly remember my father having both knees replaced when he was only in his early 40s. And a friend of mine – just 37 years old – recently had both hips replaced.
There are a variety of reasons adults (both young and old) might need joint replacement surgery. For my dad, it was a career in the military and years of physically demanding work that destroyed his knees. And my friend’s hips were ruined after several rounds of cancer-killing radiation were directed at her pelvis.
No matter how old your loved one is when they have a joint replaced, they will need a helping hand to assist them through the various phases of surgery – both before and after. If you’re about to step into the role, understand that it can be a time-consuming and demanding task (but also incredibly rewarding).
Here are some of the ways you can help make the process a little easier:
Preparing Your Home For Recovery
Every joint replacement patient has different needs, and the restrictions they face after surgery will depend on several factors. Still, many people find it helpful to set up a “recovery room” on the first floor of the house. This room should include:
- Easy access to a nearby bathroom OR a bedside urinal/commode (Note: It may be necessary to install grab bars in the bathroom)
- A bed that isn’t too high off the ground
- A telephone or cellphone (with charger) to call for help
- Bandages and other supplies necessary for wound care
- A walker or crutches, if needed
- Open walkways, without rugs or electrical cords in the way
- Comfortable clothing and shoes that are safe for walking around the house
- A variety of snacks and beverages
- Several entertainment options (books, crosswords, television, etc.)
During the recovery phase, your loved one may need significant assistance in their activities of daily living.
- Medication: Depending on the type of surgery, it is not unlikely that one of more medications will be required. Ask the doctor if she can provide the prescriptions in advance, so you can have them ready and waiting at home prior to surgery.
- Meals and snacks: If you will not be living in your loved one’s home full-time, it is vital that they meals they can quickly and easily make on their own. Try preparing a few options in advance that can be quickly reheated in the microwave – or provide quick meals that don’t have to be heated at all.
- Wound care: Your loved one will likely have bandages and dressings that need to be changed daily (or more). If possible, meet with your loved one’s doctor in advance to learn proper techniques and safety procedures before outpatient care begins.
- Household tasks: Depending on the type of joint replacement your loved one receives (knees, hips, etc.), they may not be able to stand or bend for a period of several weeks. This typically means that most household chores are out of the question. Plan to take on these tasks on your own or arrange for outside help.
- Doctors appointments: Post-surgery, your loved on will likely have several follow-up appointments within the first four – six weeks. Missing an appointment can leads to setbacks and complications, so it’s vital to take these follow-ups seriously.
- Activity: Exercising can have a big impact on a patient’s recovery. Your loved one’s doctor will likely prescribe a home exercise program in addition to outpatient rehab. Help them chart their efforts and results, and provide the motivation to stay on track.
- Paperwork: As with any surgery, joint replacement comes with a lot of paperwork. On top of the discharge orders provided by the hospital, your loved one will likely receive reports at each follow-up visit – and an absolute flurry of bills in the mail. Help them stay on top of things by organizing everything in an accordion folder or binder with tabs for each type of correspondence.
Remember during this difficult time that it is also important to take care of YOU. It’s easy for caregivers to fall into the trap of constantly providing and never receiving – and that is a quick road to burnout. Remember to:
- Take breaks
- Eat a healthy diet
- Make time for exercise
- Maintain outside interests
- Stay in touch with family and friends
- Get enough sleep
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, this is not the time to grin and bear it. Your lack of wellness won’t only affect you, it will also affect the quality of care you can provide to your loved one. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help if you need it!
Proper preparation can help you provide the best care possible for your loved one after their joint-replacement surgery. Recovery can be difficult, but it will be a lot easier with you helping out!