The Best Way To Help a Loved One Through Joint Replacement

Your father, grandmother, spouse or a dear friend is going to have joint replacement surgery and you want to help them. I concentrate my practice solely on total hip and knee replacements, doing 250-300 surgeries a year, and I can say that by far the number one best thing you can do is being there with them—serving as an extra set of eyes and ears from the first meeting with the doctor.

A friend or a daughter who hears the treatment options and the recommendation for surgery will be there to support the patient when he or she goes home to think about what was said and recommended. That person will help the patient make a better decision and to feel better about that decision.

Somebody said that patients remember about 10 percent of what they hear, and I tend to agree with that. A family member or friend will better remember information from that meeting and can share it with others, increasing the effective support group for the patient.

It actually causes the surgeon’s attention to be piqued to have the extra set of eyes and ears of a family member there during a visit. The surgeon can look the daughter in the eye and know that she’s getting all of the information, too.

When I ask the patient, “Is this a frustrating knee problem?” the reply is often that it’s not really a problem. But the family member will say, “Yes it is. It’s causing her a lot of pain and discomfort.” I get that all the time. The family member knows the real situation and is more honest about it.

Family members can help in several other ways.

Knowing What to Expect

I spend a lot of time on education, in the initial visit, pre-surgery, and follow-ups. Family members can help here because preparing the patient to know what is going to happen is very important to how well that person responds to the joint replacement.

Anesthetics, the operation, the possibility of a transfusion, blood thinners and medications after surgery are scary things. The less you talk about them the scarier they are; the more you talk about them the more reasonable it all seems. The more anxious the person is, the longer I spend with them, and so should family members.

They can make sure the patient attends hospital education classes to be prepared for surgery. There’s a tremendous iPad application for joint replacement patients called Arthritis 411 that can also help. 

Staying by Their Side

The worse thing a family member can do is to just drop off the patient at the hospital. Come in with Grandma and sit at her bedside as the nurse washes her up. Granny’s feeling exposed and threatened, and a family member right beside her holding her hand and being reassuring is a great benefit.

After the surgery, visit as much as possible. A frail individual will need more visiting. Following surgery, delirium and confusion can occur, from the anesthesia, the pain medication or from age-related issues. When you’re in a strange place you get a little goofy and confused. The best way to combat that is for family to be there.

Heading Off Anxiety

The more emotional a patient is, the more important it is that they get a sense of comfort, a sense of trust from the doctor and a family member. People with anxiety and depression are harder to treat and they have more pain. The best physician will acknowledge those issues of anxiety and depression and deal with them, as well as the pain.

People also get distressed because they’re still having knee pain two to four weeks after surgery. That’s common, and at that point, it’s all about reassurance. I tell them this isn’t unusual, and that they should not be alarmed about it.

Joint replacement patients can also experience ups and downs throughout recovery, even wondering if they’ve done the right thing. A family member offering reassurance and reminding the patient about what the doctor said to expect helps a ton.

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