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10 Tips for Caring for Someone After Knee Replacement Surgery

knee replacement surgery

What you can do

Recovering from knee replacement surgery can be challenging, especially without the help of friends and family members.

For many people, the first few days at home are the most difficult. The person you’re caring for is likely to be tired and in pain. They may be frustrated or scared because it’s difficult for them to get around and do things on their own.

This is when you’re most needed. It’s important to be patient with your loved one as you adapt to your new role. Here are 10 things you can do to help make this transition smooth.

1. Start with the basics

Preparing the home ahead of time can help ensure a smooth recovery. For example, you may wish to set up a recovery room on the first floor. This room should house anything you may need, including:

  • pillows for elevation of the lower leg
  • bedside commode or urinal if the bathroom isn’t accessible
  • bed that isn’t too high or low off of the ground
  • ice packs for the knee
  • a telephone or cellphone (with charger) to call for help
  • medications that are easily accessible, neatly arranged, and easily identifiable
  • walker or crutches
  • writing materials to take notes or list questions for your loved one’s healthcare team
  • sensible sleepwear
  • sensible shoes that are safe for walking around the house in
  • bandages for dressing changes
  • lights or lamps that can easily be controlled
  • linens that are clean, dry, and wrinkle-free
  • appropriate toiletries

Be sure to stock up on food, and make sure useful items are easily accessible. You should also remove items off the floor that may cause a fall.

Standing, sitting, and moving from room to room may be difficult for your loved one. You may need to help your loved one get around and complete daily tasks. This may mean preparing meals or helping with personal hygiene.

2. Help with medications and wound care

It’s important that all medications are taken as prescribed. You may need to help gather the medications, make sure they’re administered on schedule, and monitor and renew prescriptions from the pharmacy.

You may find it helpful to use a daily medication dispenser. These can be purchased at your local pharmacy.

If possible, meet with your loved one’s doctor before outpatient care begins. They can go over what medications your loved one needs and answer any questions you may have.

You’ll also need to monitor the wound for swelling and inflammation. This may also involve changing dressings and picking up medical supplies, like bandages, as needed.

Try to establish a routine where you dispense medications and do wound checks at the same times each day.

3. Take on household chores

Over the next several weeks, your loved one will likely be unable to do anything that involves standing for long periods of time, stretching, or bending.

They may have a hard time completing household chores, preparing meals, or performing other tasks that require them to move from room to room.

Although they may be able to do light chores, like dusting, they won’t be able to do any heavy cleaning. This typically means that vacuuming and laundry are out of the question. If possible, take on some of these chores or arrange for outside help.

You may also need to assist with shopping and meal preparation for a while. Consider preparing frozen meals in advance, and asking other friends or family members to drop off meals during the first few weeks of recovery.

It’s important that your loved one is eating nutritious foods, taking prescribed supplements, and getting plenty of rest immediately following surgery.

4. Assist with medical appointments

Not only can keeping a calendar help you track your loved one’s daily needs, it can also help you stay on top of their appointments.

Missing an appointment may lead to setbacks or other complications, so it’s important to take note of their follow-up visits and plan accordingly. This includes transportation.

Your loved one will likely be unable to drive for the first 4 to 6 weeks following surgery. This means you’ll need to drive them to their appointments or arrange for someone else to do so.

If any issues arise between appointments, don’t hesitate to reach out to your loved one’s care team.

This may include questions about:

  • medications or unusual reactions to them
  • elevated temperature
  • increasing pain
  • swelling or drainage from the incision
  • episodes of shortness of breath or chest pain

5. Provide motivation for rehab and exercises

Adhering to a rehab plan is critical. For many people, this means walking for 30 minutes two to three times daily. Many doctors recommend exercising for an additional 20 to 30 minutes two to three times per day.

Your loved one may find that walking or exercising is painful. This is normal. If they express a desire to discontinue with their rehabilitation plan, remind them that what they’re feeling is common and that rehab will help speed up their recovery.

Helping them chart their efforts, results, and progress may be motivating. Exercising and walking with them may also help keep them on track.

Check out: Exercises and stretches to do after a total knee replacement surgery »

6. Keep a list of questions for medical professionals

It’s common to have questions after surgery and during rehabilitation. Go old school with a pen and paper pad or download a note-taking app so you can jot down questions as they arise.

You may also find that as you tend to your loved one, you have questions of your own about proper care. Documenting your questions and concerns will help you remember to discuss them with your loved one’s care team.

7. Watch for changes

It’s likely that your family member or friend is deeply focused on recovery. Because of this, an outside perspective may be especially helpful. If you notice any significant change in their physical condition or mental state, it’s important to contact a medical professional immediately. Complications from the surgery, changes in the wound, and side effects from medication must be addressed promptly.

8. Keep up with paperwork

A knee replacement is a complex procedure that requires many professional services. As a result, a flurry of bills and reports will arrive from multiple providers and locations over the span of several weeks.

Dealing with the physical recovery process may already be stressful. Falling behind on paperwork and bills can add to that anxiety. If you can, take the lead on any actionable notices from your loved one’s care team. Staying on top of the paperwork can help your loved one focus on recovery.

To help keep paperwork organized, file everything in an accordion folder, or use a large binder with tabs for each type of correspondence.

9. Provide emotional support

Although a knee replacement is physically taxing, there’s also an important mental aspect to recovery and rehab.

Your loved one may become frustrated or impatient with the pain or a perceived lack of progress. Poor mobility may impact their attitude and sense of self-worth. By providing ongoing support and encouragement, you can help your friend or family member speed up the recovery process, stay on track, and do the work needed for a full recovery.

It’s not unusual for people to take out their frustration on their primary caregiver. To reduce the risk of hurt feelings, communication is key. Express feelings without blame and without getting defensive. Practice good listening skills. Try not to take things said out of frustration and impatience personally.

Learn more: Knee replacement and your state of mind »

10. Take care of yourself

It can be difficult to care for someone else if you don’t take care of yourself. Take breaks and focus on staying patient and relaxed. You may want to go for a short walk, read a book, or meditate. If you need a longer break, enlist other friends or family members for help.

The bottom line

Proper preparation can help you successfully care for someone after knee replacement surgery. Every recovery situation is unique, but your help will likely be needed daily for the first few weeks. You may be able to do less after that, but be prepared to be on call for up to three months.

As a caregiver, communication is key, as is taking care of yourself so you don’t burn out. Before agreeing to care for someone after surgery, be sure you’re physically and emotionally ready for the job.

If you think you need help, be honest and don’t try to go it alone. The recovery period is no time to be a martyr. Continuing the job alone if you’re struggling may lead to further injury for your loved one or yourself.

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