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Navigating Surgery and Medical Procedures for People with Dementia

Being a caregiver for a patient with dementia can be an enriching experience for everyone involved. However, that’s not to say that there won’t be challenging situations. One of these can involve the need for a surgical procedure, which could complicate things further. 

 From the perspective of the patient, surgery can be confusing and sometimes quite frightening. As a caregiver, there will also be additional logistical elements to ensure you give the patient the support they need to thrive. Let’s look at a few steps that can help you both navigate the situation.

Assisting with Key Decision-Making

As a caregiver for a patient with dementia, you know how challenging informed decision-making can be, and making good choices is essential for any medical procedure. The surgery experience is also likely to impact the patient’s finances and their emotional and psychological comfort, among others. It is, therefore, vital to patiently assist them with preparations.

Some of the areas of focus here include:

Researching Surgery Methods

Thanks to advancing technology, some forms of surgery have a range of techniques that can be used. For instance, patients with cataracts can choose Lensar laser tech procedures, rather than traditional and more invasive methods. This approach can have higher accuracy and shorter surgery times, which may make it more comfortable for patients with dementia.

As a caregiver, it’s important to help those for whom you care fully research the options available to them and talk them through the literature you find on the subject.

Exploring the Risks and Benefits

In order for patients with dementia to make informed decisions about procedures, it is essential for them to have a good understanding of what the risks and benefits are. Speaking with a surgeon can help determine what these are.

At home, revisit this list at the moments in which the patient has the most clarity. It is both an ethical duty and an empowering act to do your due diligence to ensure the patient can fully explore how the surgery can help or hinder them before moving forwards.

Communicating with the Medical Team

Solid communication between patient and their medical team is key to ensuring a positive experience. As a caregiver, you’ll often be the intermediary in this regard. This isn’t simply a case of repeating information. Rather, you’re helping to facilitate the most direct, positive, and impactful interactions between the person you represent and their doctor.

Some of the key ways you can aid communication include:

Outlining the Patient’s Needs

Surgeons and other medical staff may not have a lot of experience treating patients who are living with dementia. As you’re likely to have a more nuanced understanding of the patient’s individual communicative needs and challenges, it’s important to disclose them to the medical staff.

Be open and specific about how staff should approach conversations. Wherever possible, include the patient in these discussions to keep them connected to the process rather than othered as a result of their condition.

Identify the Primary Point of Contact

Surgical experiences for people living with dementia can often be confusing and stressful. This may be exacerbated when there isn’t a consistent medical professional to communicate with the patient.

It’s important to provide one or more primary points of contact to the medical staff so that they know to reach out to this person in addition to the patient themselves. These contacts should be introduced to the patient before the procedure as well.

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Providing Support During the Operation

The day of surgery or a medical procedure can be difficult to navigate for anyone. Patients living with dementia may find they have additional experiences of confusion, fear, and stress. After all, they’re entering an unusual environment with people who may be crossing their usual boundaries of comfort. As a caregiver, the support you provide during their time in the hospital is essential.

Some of the ways you can be most effective include:

Take Things Slowly

It’s only understandable to want to make the surgical experience brief for a patient with dementia. However, it’s important to ensure that they don’t feel rushed. This may include taking extra time for them to get ready before leaving for the hospital and enabling your loved one to make sure they have everything they need for the stay.

Arriving at the hospital or clinic a little earlier can give them the time to settle in and acclimate to their surroundings.

Ensure a Comforting Environment

It’s essential to make sure that the environment the patient stays in during their surgical experience is as comforting as possible. This could include: 

  • Placing familiar objects or family photos to place next to their bed.
  • Filling a personal music player or smartphone with a playlist of the patient’s favorite music, which they can listen to when stressed or anxious.
  • Arranging for yourself or other loved ones to be present before the surgery.
  • Accompanying the patient, if the procedure allows. 

Aiding Post-Operative Recovery

The post-operative period is often as vital as the procedure itself. Without care and attention, there is potential for infections to take hold or for other complications to arise. Here’s how you can support a loved one with dementia during this time:

Assisting with Cleanliness

Maintaining a high level of hygiene after surgery is key to avoiding further complications. Assist the patient in keeping any areas of surgical incision clean and in line with the doctor’s recommendations. Also ensure the environments in which the patient interacts are also clean. 

Gaining a good understanding of different types of disinfectants and their properties can help you make appropriate cleaning choices. While antiseptics can be good for cleaning skin and wounds, chemical disinfectants can aid in eliminating harmful microorganisms on non-biological surfaces. If you’re unsure, the medical team should be able to provide you with the best advice.

Managing Medication Schedules

Some surgical procedures will have aftercare medication requirements. Collaborate with your loved one to ensure they fully understand the need to take the medication and help them to incorporate this change into their daily schedule.

Challenging, But Achievable

As a caregiver, helping a patient navigate the experience of surgery can be challenging. It’s important to take steps to empower them to make well-informed decisions about procedures and facilitate clear communication with medical providers. You can also offer support on the day of surgery by taking things slowly and providing components of comfort. Remember that the post-operative period is vital to their recovery, so be fastidious about cleaning and medication schedules.

This is certainly not an easy situation. Wherever possible, aim to empower the patient to be active participants in their surgical care rather than passive recipients. By making this the core of all your efforts, you can rest assured that you’re putting the patient, their needs, and the quality of their care first.

About the Author

Sam Bowman

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Sam Bowman

Sam Bowman writes about people, health, wellness, and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for a community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.

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