Surgery is a fact of life for older adults. Every year, millions of seniors go into the hospital for major and minor surgeries, ranging from joint replacement operations to heart procedures, and everything in between.
According to one report, “America’s elderly undergo 20% of all surgical procedures” in the country. More than half of all adults will undergo at least one surgical procedure as senior citizens, according to reporting from Today’s Caregiver. For seniors, it can be difficult to bounce back immediately after an operation, or even a brief hospital stay. Indeed, research has shown that many seniors experience physical impairment, memory problems, and symptoms of depression and anxiety after a hospitalization.
Surgery can be a difficult time for elderly adults, and for the family caregivers who love and support them. With that said, there are plenty of steps seniors and caregivers can take to make sure an operation is just a brief bump in the road, a small challenge in a life full of happiness, health, and independence.
What can family caregivers do to help their senior prepare for a surgical procedure, and recover fully after their time in the hospital? Here are a few important things to keep in mind…
Helping a Senior Get Ready for Surgery
The period before surgery is important, for the elderly patient and the family caregivers who are supporting them. Taking a few key steps ahead of time can help your senior loved one go into their procedure with confidence, and improve their chances of making a full recovery after their operation. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Help your senior physically prepare
We’ve all heard of rehab after a surgery – but what about “prehab” before the procedure? Helping your senior loved one physically prepare for an operation can make a big difference for their recovery afterwards. Focus on helping your senior loved one exercise, eat a nutritious diet, and get sufficient rest, in line with their doctor’s instructions. Their doctor may offer recommendations – for example, stretches that can help prepare the muscles before orthopedic surgery, or a diet to help improve health in recovery after cardiac surgery. Your loved one’s doctor may also offer recommendations for cutting out unhealthy habits (such as smoking), and may instruct your loved one to stop taking certain supplements or medications before the surgery.
- Talk to your loved one’s healthcare team
Help your senior loved one keep up an open dialogue with their surgeon and other members of their healthcare team, including their primary care physician. Help your loved one create a list of questions to ask. Be thorough, and don’t worry about asking the wrong things. Topics to ask about might include how to prepare for the operation, what complications to expect, any stories or experiences the doctor wants to share, the ins and outs of the procedure, the healing process, admittance and discharge dates from hospital, and so on. Have a list of medications and supplements ready to discuss with your loved one’s doctor. Take some time to look into family history, which could give warning signs of complications that may come up.
- Keep up an open dialogue with your senior
Before surgery, your elderly loved one may feel anxious or stressed. Be present, and make sure your loved one feels seen, heard, and supported. Be available to listen to their fears, and work together to find solutions. For instance, you may want to devote a good deal of time to helping your loved one research their operation and understand its risks and benefits, so they can go into the big day with more confidence. It may also help to learn a few relaxation techniques with your loved one, and pick up a healthy habit such as yoga or mindful breathing.
- Help them get ready for their hospital stay
Seniors going in for surgery may have to spend quite a bit of time at the hospital, before, during, and after their procedure. Help your loved one pack for their stay. Gather a “hospital bag” complete with changes of clothes, assistive devices (like eyeglasses, hearing aids, etc.), books to read, required medicines, a good luck charm, a phone or tablet, toiletries, personal pillow, headphones — anything it takes to make the hospital stay feel easier before and after surgery.
How to Help a Senior Recover After Surgery
The steps a senior takes immediately after surgery can help set them down the path to making a full recovery, and regaining their independence. As a family caregiver, there are many key ways you can support your elderly loved one as they make the tricky transition back to everyday life, post-surgery:
- Get the senior’s home ready ahead of time
Transitioning back home can be difficult after surgery. Before your loved one is set to return home, take some time to prepare the space for them, so that it’s safe, comfortable, and ready to help them on their journey to full health. Get rid of clutter and other obstacles or impediments around the house; add wheelchair ramps, if necessary; install grab bars in the shower and around the toilet; improve the lighting around the house; and consider creating a main floor “recovery room” separate from the master bedroom, if your loved one can’t safely climb stairs after their operation.
- Make sure they have what they need
Before your loved one settles back in, make sure you stock up their fridge and pantry with healthy, nutritious, and quick-to-prepare foods. Get your loved one’s laundry done ahead of time, so they have a closet full of outfits waiting when they get back. Create an emergency contact list that is always accessible to your senior. Make sure your loved one has all of their supportive devices (like their hearing aids, eyeglasses, walker or cane, medical alert alarms, and a water bottle). Help them portion out and remember medications and create a space for them to comfortably do any post-surgery physical therapy exercises. Look into services that may be able to help streamline your eldelry loved one’s day-to-day, such as meal delivery, mobile laundry pickup, and so on.
- Help them learn from followup appointments
In the short term, one of the most important things you can do to help your senior loved one is to accompany them to all of their post-surgery doctor’s visits, physical therapy sessions, and follow up appointments. Being present at these appointments is a great way to make sure someone is taking notes and asking questions, particularly since your loved one may be distracted or dazed after surgery. Get a sense of what your loved one will have to do to make a full recovery, and talk with your loved one’s healthcare team about putting a practical strategy into action.
- Be attentive, patient, and supportive
Be empathetic, open, and willing to listen. In the days after surgery, your senior loved one may complain, or may be withdrawn. Be present and there for them, even in trying moments. Your senior loved one may also experience confusion or delirium; try to be supportive, and not get frustrated. Be supportive and encouraging, but try not to push your loved one too hard, too fast. Instead, help them understand their new personal limits. Remember, at the end of the day, kindness can go a long way toward making a full recovery easier. Create an environment where your senior loved one can be comfortable – and feel comfortable bringing their concerns and questions to you.
Be Ready to Ask for Help
As a supportive family caregiver, it can be tempting to try to take on every aspect of your senior loved one’s health and well-being, before and after they go in for surgery. Remember, one of the most powerful things you can do to help your loved one, and yourself, is to know when it’s time to reach out for help.
The period immediately before and after surgery can be difficult for older adults, and the family members who support them. After surgery, your senior loved one may need assistance with routine activities they once took for granted, including cooking, cleaning, walking around, and performing basic grooming and personal hygiene. Meanwhile, the weeks and months after surgery can be a whirlwind, full of doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, trips to the pharmacy, and more.
After surgery, your senior loved one may need more hands-on care than ever before. It can be hard enough to help seniors manage their day-to-day life after surgery. When you try to provide all the care they need while also balancing your own full schedule of work, raising kids, and taking care of your health? That can be too much to take on alone, even for the most dedicated and supportive family caregivers.
Following an operation or a hospital stay, non-medical home care can be a great way to offer your loved one the support and personalized attention they need to thrive throughout the recovery process, while also allowing family caregivers to rest and recharge.
A professional companion can spend time with your senior loved one in the comfort and safety of their own home, or step in and help while your loved one recovers in the hospital or at a rehab facility. Companion care is a flexible, affordable option, designed to provide seniors with the exact level of care they need, on a schedule that suits their active lives.
Available on a full- or part-time basis, home care from an experienced senior companion can provide many different services designed to help your elderly loved one regain their health and independence after a surgery, including:
- Providing assistance with ADLs
- Offering housekeeping and laundry help
- Running errands and assisting with meal prep
- Providing transportation service to doctor’s appointments, family events, and more
- Providing medication and exercise reminders
- Offering emotional support and friendship
- Observing “yellow flags” and providing reports to family caregivers
About Companions for Seniors
Do you have any questions about helping a senior loved one prepare for surgery? Want to put your aging loved one in the best possible position to recover after an operation? Do you have an elderly family member who could benefit from the attention and companionship that a professional caregiver can provide? Companions for Seniors would be happy to help.
At Companions for Seniors, our companions are trained and bonded, and can help your family shoulder some of the responsibilities of caring for an aging loved one, including during the difficult period of recovery after surgery or hospitalization.
We are locally owned and operated in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs. We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support. Our companions help stimulate our clients physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, empowering them to live an active and enriched lifestyle in the comfort of their own homes. We also offer companionship services in hospitals or treatment centers.
Have any questions about Companions for Seniors? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our contact form, available at this link.