Helping Seniors with Post Surgical Recovery

Advice for families and caregivers

Caring for a parent after surgery can be emotionally taxing. The patient may be uncomfortable and may need lots of emotional support as well as help doing the simplest things. Some adult children who provide care for post-surgical patients find the role reversal disturbing. Others appreciate the opportunity to give back.

Q&A for Seniors and Post Surgery
Post surgery, should we have a family member in my parent's hospital room at all times?
  • Many people believe it is important to have a caregiver with the patient at all times.
  • Whether your parent is uncomfortable and needs attention, or has a sudden turn for the worse, having a caregiver who will immediately get help could have a significant impact on your parent's recovery.
  • You can work out a rotation system to provide 24-hour coverage, with each person taking different four to six hour shifts, depending on how many people you have to rotate with -- whether family or paid caregivers.
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How can I be most helpful to my parent post surgery?

Your parent will appreciate your support at this time.

  • Let your parent know that you are there for him or her and will help -- either in person or by finding or paying others -- with the many things your parent cannot do now.
  • As your parent gets stronger, encouraging him or her to resume care of him- or herself as soon as possible will hasten emotional recovery from the surgery.
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Should I accompany my parent on post-surgical doctor visits?

Yes, it is very important to have another adult accompany the patient on doctor visits.

  • Too often patients forget what the doctor said or what they wanted to ask the doctor. Having someone to take notes on the doctor's recommendations for care and medication, to ask questions on the patient's behalf, and in general to advocate for the patient can be tremendously helpful.
  • Also, the more you understand about your parent's condition, the more helpful you can be.
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What should I do if my parent isn't following the doctor's orders post surgery?

In a loving way, encourage your parent to try to follow the doctor's recommendations.

  • If this involves dietary changes, let your parent know that you realize how hard it is, but that you want your parent to be there for you and your family, and that following these guidelines will best enable that to happen.
  • When you eat with your parent, try to restrict your own diet to the one your parent must follow.
  • If your parent was told to stop smoking, don't smoke in her presence.
  • If she was told to stop drinking, don't drink in her presence.
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Will my parent's post-surgery sleep problems go away?

The sleep problems are most likely a temporary post-surgical response to the trauma associated with surgery. They are a very common reaction and stressful for the patient and his family.

  • Sleep medication may help. Discuss this issue with your parent's doctor.
  • Some patients find that the regular practice of relaxation techniques helps them sleep better.
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Will my parent ever regain the strength she had before surgery?

Most likely your parent will get stronger little by little. Make sure he or she is eating and sleeping well, as both are important for recovery. Your parent's diet should include protein and lots of fruits and vegetables.

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My parent fears becoming addicted to pain medication after surgery. Is this likely?

Most people do not become addicted to pain medication unless they have already exhibited symptoms of addiction problems. If you parent hasn't had any such problems, it may make sense to treat the pain, if that is what the doctor recommends.

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Would relaxation exercises help my parent after surgery?
  • Relaxation techniques used before surgery have been shown to lower the degree of pain experienced by patients afterwards.
  • The relaxation techniques also help control post-surgical anxiety and enable some patients to sleep better.
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My parent's personality has changed since her heart surgery. Will this change become permanent?

Many heart surgery patients become very emotional afterwards, cry frequently, and worry about death. In the initial stages, those reactions are normal, but if they persist, then it might be a good idea for your parent to be treated for depression and to talk to a therapist.

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How can I find a caregiver to help my parent after surgery? is a website that lists people throughout the United States who provide care to seniors, includes photos and descriptions of their experience, and does free background checks for members. You can search by zip code. For specific listings, go to:

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Other resources for Seniors and Post Surgery

American Pain Foundation

National Pain Foundation

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