Helping a Loved One After Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery
People in recovery from coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery may need assistance from family members and friends in a variety of ways. You may help your loved one for several weeks during recovery with a number of tasks, including shopping, cleaning, and driving. You can also help support your loved one in making healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy foods. Also, he or she may rely on you for emotional support.
If you have a family member or other loved one who has just returned home from the hospital after CABG surgery, you may want to know what you can do to help. Your loved one may not be able to do normal activities and may also need a great deal of encouragement and emotional support.
Your loved one who has just had open-heart surgery may have considerable physical limitations. So he or she may rely on others for help with relatively simple but important tasks. You and your friends and family may choose to assume a large role in managing his or her day-to-day life. You can help by:
- Shopping for and preparing food. Many people recovering from surgery cannot leave their homes on their own to shop for food. Buy and prepare heart-healthy foods including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fish.
- Cleaning. Simple cleaning tasks can be too physically demanding during recovery. But a clean house is crucial to both mood and health (to avoid infections). So you can consider helping to clean house regularly or hiring a maid service.
- Driving. Your loved one will not be able to drive for 4 to 6 weeks after CABG surgery. It is important that his or her chest bone heals properly, and sudden arm movements or an accident while driving could cause serious injury. But your loved one will need to go to frequent doctor appointments during recovery. He or she might also need to go to cardiac rehab. You may need to drive him or her to these follow-up appointments as well as to any other destination.
- Medicines. Your loved one will probably need to take several medicines after CABG surgery. You could help him or her by organizing the medicines. You can get a special pillbox (with one or more compartments for each day of the week) or mark a calendar as a memory aid.
- Walking. Taking daily walks is part of recovery. You can help your loved one by taking a walk with him or her and being encouraging. Your loved one will take short walks at first. Then he or she will try to walk a little more than on the day before. Bit by bit, your loved one will walk farther. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
Providing emotional support
Being a full-time caregiver may be an unfamiliar role for you. Maybe you never imagined yourself spending most of your time taking care of a loved one. There are several things you can do to help provide the emotional support needed.
- Offer encouragement. Adopting the lifestyle changes that doctors recommend for heart disease can be difficult. If your loved one is having trouble or becoming frustrated, encourage him or her to start slowly and build up to the overall goal gradually. You may also offer to change your own lifestyle to encourage healthy behaviors.
- Offer help, but encourage your loved one to remain active. He or she should try to stay as active as possible. As recovery progresses, moderate exercise and doing simple tasks around the house can be safe. This can help your loved one feel better both physically and mentally. If you are concerned about what activities are safe, speak with the doctor who has been the most involved in your loved one's care.
- Ask if you can participate in doctor visits. You can offer support by sitting in on doctor visits and taking notes. This can help your loved one remember important instructions and help him or her feel less alone during the recovery experience.
Looking after yourself
Being a caregiver can be mentally and physically challenging. There are things you can do to help make the situation more manageable for yourself. Remember that you will only be an effective and loving caregiver if you are in good physical and mental shape. Try to find ways to reduce the stress of caregiving.
- Enlist help when you need it. If possible, don't take on all the responsibilities yourself. You may be able to involve other family members or a visiting nurse or even hire a food delivery or housekeeping service to help with the shopping and cleaning.
- Take time for yourself. Being a caregiver can be stressful and time-consuming. To avoid burnout and to continue to provide care and support, it is important to save some time for activities that you enjoy.
- Seek emotional support if you need it. Being a caregiver to a loved one who is recovering from major surgery can be emotionally difficult. If you are having trouble coping with your feelings, you should not feel ashamed or embarrassed about seeking advice and counseling from appropriate sources, such as other family members, trained mental health professionals, or religious advisers.
Other Works Consulted
- Kulik A, et al. (2015). Secondary prevention after coronary artery bypass graft surgery: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 131(10): 927–964. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000182. Accessed April 6, 2015.
Current as of: April 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Rakesh K. Pai, MD - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
David C. Stuesse, MD - Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery