Considering Joint Surgery While Living Alone

The idea of surgery can be stressful, especially if you live alone. Here are a few things to consider as you begin to sort through your questions and concerns.

If your chronic joint pain hasn't responded to conservative treatments like physical therapy or medication, you may be thinking about, or actively preparing for, joint replacement surgery. Deciding to undergo a joint surgery, like a hip or knee replacement, is a big decision… especially if you live alone.

If you live by yourself, it's normal to have lots of questions before your operation. How will you stay safe? How will you keep up with household chores and meals? How will you get to follow-up visits and physical therapy appointments? 

These questions can quickly become overwhelming. To help you sort through your questions and concerns, here are five things to consider as you prepare.

1. Become a well-informed patient.

Don't be shy about asking questions. Ask whatever clarifying questions you have to your medical team, including your surgeon, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and pharmacist. Write down your concerns ahead of time and jot down the answers. Also, ask for written education such as pamphlets and booklets and review them thoroughly. 

The more you know about your surgery and what to expect, the better equipped you'll be to advocate for yourself and handle the recovery period with confidence.

2. Get your home recovery ready.

Movement is important during recovery after knee or hip replacement surgery, but you want to avoid over-exerting yourself or putting yourself at risk for falls. If you can, consider making temporary changes to your home ahead of time to make it easier and more efficient for you to negotiate your surroundings as you regain your strength and mobility. Here are a few ideas:

  • Install railings on all your stairways.
  • Reduce tripping hazards: clear away clutter, remove throw rugs, ensure your hallways and rooms are well-lit, move electrical cords or secure them to the floor with wide masking tape, and make sure there's plenty of space to use whatever assistive device is prescribed to you following your operation.
  • Store a list of emergency phone numbers and medical information somewhere handy.
  • Install grab bars, non-slip mats, toilet risers, tub benches or shower chairs in your bathroom (note: insurance may cover some of these items).
  • Consider getting a commode to put next to your bed to make late-night bathroom trips safer. 
  • Buy extra cell phone chargers and place one in every room you spend the most time in. 
  • Plan a few days' to a weeks’ worth of outfits and leave them in an accessible area.
  • If you'll be using ice packs to manage pain, consider placing a mini-fridge next to your bed or favorite lounge chair for easier access.
  • If your bedroom is on the second floor, consider setting up a temporary bedroom on the first floor until you feel more confident negotiating your stairs.

For more of these ideas, check out Preparing for Joint Replacement Surgery.

3. Prepare your meals ahead of time.

After your surgery, it's important to stay well-hydrated and eat nutritious foods to help you heal. To reduce the amount of time you'll have to spend cooking—and to avoid relying solely on unhealthy and expensive options like frozen packaged meals or pricey takeout—bulk cook some meals ahead of time and freeze them. 

You can also explore other options like:

  • Grocery delivery (hint: a lot of pharmacies deliver medications, too!).
  • Online food delivery services like Take Them a MealGrubHubPostMates, or Meals on Wheels.
  • Meal trains through your local church or loved ones (websites like Meal Train make it easy for friends and family to organize).

4. Ask for some back-up support.

Even if you live alone, there are many people you can lean on during your recovery period. For instance:

  • Talk to friends and family members about getting help with things like rides to follow-up appointments or trips to the pharmacy.
  • Perhaps a close friend or family member would be willing to stay with you for a couple days.
  • Ask a neighbor if they’d be willing to check in on you each day.
  • Look into temporary housekeeping services. 
  • Talk to your health insurance—they may be able to set you up with a case manager who can help you handle the many aspects of your rehabilitation period. 
  • Look into local senior organizations in your area. Many provide discounted rides, companionship visits, and other services that can ease your stress and make it easier for you to focus on your recovery.

The trick is to arrange additional support as soon as you can—even before surgery if possible. The earlier you can explore these options, the easier it will be to take advantage of them after your surgery. 

5. Consider alternate options.

In some cases, you, your family, and medical team may decide that more involved care during your initial recovery would be best for your well-being. 

For example, home health services or a short stay at an inpatient rehabilitation facility may be appropriate:

  • Depending on the type, and invasiveness, of your surgery.
  • If you have additional chronic health conditions.
  • If you experience a complication with your surgery.
  • If you have an inaccessible home environment that you're not physically ready to manage, such as multiple steps to enter your house. 

In situations like these, more involved care can be an essential stepping-stone that might help you avoid certain complications during your initial recovery. So if this applies to you, be patient and remember that your success and your safety are top priorities.

Life’s too short to live in pain. If you've exhausted conservative treatments, it may be time to talk to your doctor about joint replacement surgery. The good news is that modern day joint replacement surgery is generally considered an effective treatment to ease the pain and dysfunction caused by osteoarthritis; however, you should know that it does come with a variety of risks as well. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the risks involved with your procedure. Your doctor can explain all the risks associated with your surgery. You can also read more about them by clicking one of these links: What Are the Risks of Knee Replacement SurgeryWhat Are the Risks of Hip Replacement SurgeryWhat Are the Risks of Shoulder Replacement SurgeryWhat Are the Risks of Total Ankle Replacement Surgery, and What Are the Risks of Elbow Replacement Surgery.

Even if you live alone, you can have a successful recovery period. But, never be shy to ask for help.

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  1. Svensson, P., et al. (2011). Referred Muscle Pain: Basic and Clinical Findings. The Clinical Journal of Pain. 17: 11-19.

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