Helping a Family Member Having Joint Replacement

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Joint replacement surgery is becoming more and more common. As our aging population grows, arthritis is becoming more common, and every year more people are undergoing hip replacement surgery and knee replacement surgery. In addition, joint replacement surgery is being offered to a broader group of individuals as treatment for severe arthritis of problematic joints.

Having a joint replacement surgery requires some level of assistance.

 That assistance is seen in the hospital, in the outpatient setting, but also at home. When people return home, they often rely on family members, friends, and others to help support their post-surgical needs. In addition, there is a constant drive to get patients who have joint replacement surgery back home as soon as possible. Part of the reason for getting people back home is the cost effectiveness, but there are also concerns about healthcare acquired infections that make getting people back home the safest of all options.

There was a time when joint replacement surgery required a long hospitalization, followed by recovery at an inpatient facility. These days, it is becoming increasingly common for people to return directly home from their inpatient hospitalization, and sometimes the hospitalization time is remarkably short. The average time spent in a hospital after joint replacement surgery is around 2 or 3 days after surgery.

Some people are even returning home on the day they undergo surgery.

Needing Assistance

As mentioned, some level of assistance is required after having joint replacement surgery. Some of these tasks include:

  • Assistance with mobilization
  • Preparing meals
  • Providing transportation
  • Assisting with new medications
  • Helping with home physical therapy
  • Cleaning and taking care of the house
  • Caring for other family members and pets
  • Being available in the event of an emergency

Different patients require different levels of assistance, and exactly how much help one individual needs will vary on their function as well as their home setting. Some homes are set up in a way that makes it easy to navigate hallways, get in and out of bathrooms, and take care of one's daily needs. Other homes have more complicated set-ups that can require increased assistance.

The other component of assistance is the direct involvement in the recovery from a therapeutic standpoint. When people are recovering from joint replacement surgery, they may need assistance with normal daily tasks and movements, and they may also need assistance with some exercises and therapeutic efforts. Ideally, a coach will be around during some physical therapy to learn how they can be an effective team member in the patient's rehabilitation and recovery.

Who Can Help?

Many different individuals can be tasked with helping someone who has recently undergone joint replacement surgery. Often that individual is a spouse, but there are many other people who can serve in this capacity.

Other family members including children, parents, and more distant relatives can be the primary caregiver. Many people without family in the immediate area will rely on a close friend. Other options include hired assistance or caregivers.

Because of the varied group of individuals who may provide support to someone who has recently undergone joint replacement surgery, many hospitals and physicians refer to this person as the "coach." A joint replacement coach helps an individual who is undergoing joint replacement surgery navigate the various complexities of their treatment. Ideally, a coach will accompany the patient to their preoperative appointments, be available during her hospitalization, and serve as the primary assistant upon the patient returning home.

Why It Helps

Having a coach can make a big difference for patients. There is a lot of anxiety wrapped up in having a major surgical procedure such as a joint replacement, and it's often difficult to take in all of the details that help prepare you for both the actual surgery and your postoperative recovery. Having a coach accompany you on your preoperative visits can ensure that someone else is also listening in, taking notes, and learning about the steps that can be taken to ensure a smooth recovery from surgery.

Most patients have very personal thoughts on their mind prior to undergoing joint replacement surgery.  These may include concerns about controlling pain, size of the surgical scar, function of their joint replacement, and how long it will last. A coach may have more practical thoughts on their mind: what can we take care of before surgery, how can we get the house ready, when we will someone need to be available? Both the patient's and the coach's questions are reasonable ones to ask, but by having this different perspective, it is more likely all of the details are addressed prior to the time of surgery.

How Can I Ask Someone?

For some people, their coach will be obvious. For others, it may not be as clear who the right person to assist with their joint replacement might be. I have come across many patients who stubbornly do not want to bother relatives or friends to assist them with their surgical procedure. The two things that I can share from my experience are: First, people want to help. Second, it is much easier to identify this person ahead of time and give them an opportunity to prepare as well.

Being a joint replacement coach does not necessarily mean that individual needs to be present all of the time, nor do they need to be available to stay with you or be with you during your entire recovery. Having them attend one or two preoperative visits, visit you in the hospital, and be available during the early recovery process may be perfectly sufficient. While it is wonderful to have a coach who is intimately involved, others might have someone who is more peripherally involved, in really just lending a hand when needed. However, as I mentioned, it is much easier for both the patient and the coach if these responsibilities can be identified prior to surgery.

For people who feel as though this is too much of an obligation for any single individual in their life, there are patients who take a team coaching approach. Asking more than one individual to assist with recovery from joint replacement is one option for these situations. Ideally, there is one coach, but in some situations this may not be the right fit. Do not be afraid to spread out the tasks to more than one individual to ensure that you have the assistance that you will need after surgery.

Providing Perspective

The one other component of care that a joint replacement coach can offer is providing perspective. As a patient, being at the center of treatment makes it very difficult to take a step back, and recognize where things are going well, and where struggles might be occurring. A coach can offer great perspective. They can identify and encourage the gains that you are making, and help overcome the hurdles where you are struggling.

There is no doubt that having a joint replacement surgery can create times that are frustrating and feel insurmountable. Having a coach is like having a cheerleader, a supporter, and a helper, all in one. A good coach will help to push you when you need a little push, and they will assist you when you need a little assistance.

A Word From Verywell

Having a joint replacement surgery is a major decision in one's life. Not only is the surgery important, but having a smooth recovery helps to ensure the people have the best possible outcome. Because there are many new challenges that people face after having joint replacement, it is very helpful to have an individual who can accompany and assist you through this process to help make it as smooth as possible. Identifying a coach who can help along this path is one tool that people can use to help guide their joint replacement recovery to the best possible outcome.

Sources:

Bozic KJ, Belkora J, Chan V, Youm J, Zhou T, Dupaix J, Bye AN, Braddock CH 3rd, Chenok KE, Huddleston JI 3rd. "Shared decision making in patients with osteoarthritis of the hip and knee: results of a randomized controlled trial" J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2013 Sep 18;95(18):1633-9.

Kennedy D, Wainwright A, Pereira L, Robarts S, Dickson P, Christian J, Webster F. "A qualitative study of patient education needs for hip and knee replacement" BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2017 Oct 12;18(1):413.

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