When a loved one decides to undergo a joint replacement—whether hip, knee, shoulder—their life is about to change for the better. It’s often a decision they’ve made after enduring months if not years of pain. But before they’re back to normal, there’s a period of recovery. Depending upon the person and the joint replacement, this can leave them in need of help from friends and family members, if they’re lucky enough to have loved ones nearby.
“I always tell patients that if you live by yourself and you’re independent, you can recover by yourself if you have to. But it’s always nice to have someone who can help,” says Nicci George, RN, ONC, an orthopedic nurse at Henry Ford Health. “The patients who are most successful after a joint replacement are the ones who are prepared, who have read all of the information, and who have shared this information with friends and family—or whoever will be helping them after surgery.”
George shares her top five tips for caregivers of patients undergoing a joint replacement.
- Do your homework. Patients should know what to expect before, during and after the procedure, and caregivers should as well. At Henry Ford, George teaches a class on preparing for joint-replacement surgery and recommends that caregivers attend. Patients and caregivers will also get reading material to take home. For online research, George recommends websites such as American Academy of Hip and Knee Surgeons, but cautions against going to sources that aren’t legitimate.
- Make sure the house is free of safety hazards that can cause falls. Before your loved one goes to the hospital, help them create a safe space to come home to. Clean cluttered floors, dry wet floors and fix uneven surfaces, or plan ways to avoid them. (Even things like loose electrical cords and throw rugs should be moved out of the way, as both can cause tripping.) Also, if their bedroom is upstairs, set up a bed on the first floor so they don’t have to walk up and down stairs for the first few days after surgery.
- Be a cheerleader. “Not everyone will need a babysitter, but most people will need a cheerleader,” says George. “Especially that first week post surgery, it’s nice to have someone who has your back—someone who says you can get through this. Of course, if you’ve had a joint replacement with us, you’ll also have great support from the home care nurse and therapist who will visit your home for two weeks.”
- Help with day-to-day tasks. Whether stocking the fridge and preparing meals, helping them get out of bed, putting their socks and shoes on, attending physical therapy or driving them to doctor’s appointments, any help counts—because small chores can be difficult while recovering. “Undergoing a shoulder replacement is especially tough, because you have only one arm for a while and you’re not supposed to lift anything heavier than a coffee cup,” says George. “And most will agree that after a knee or hip replacement, the toughest days range between three and six—so however you can make your loved one’s life easier, it will be appreciated.”
- Help with pain management, swelling and cleaning the incision. After surgery, your loved one will leave the hospital with instructions on how much pain medication to take and when, along with how to clean and dress the wound, and how to care for swelling. Help them follow these instructions and be their advocate: encourage them to speak with their care team if they have questions or concerns.
“Everyone recovers differently,” says George. “Some people are up and running a few weeks after surgery, for others it takes longer. Asking how you can help and support them will go a long way.”
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Nicci George, RN, ONC, is a registered orthopedic nurse at Henry Ford Health. She is a nurse navigator and teaches a joint replacement preparation class at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.