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Elderly Knee Replacement Recovery: Caregiver Tips and What to Expect

Written by Kindred Healthcare
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated May 10, 2023

Discovering your senior loved one needs a knee replacement can be daunting, but learning about recovery time and setting realistic expectations can ease the process. Knee surgery, often a last resort for seniors with severe pain and limited mobility, requires a strong support system during rehabilitation. By understanding the time to recover from knee surgery, you and your loved one can confidently navigate this journey, working together towards a successful recovery and an enhanced quality of life.

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Knee replacement recovery time for the elderly

Knee replacement recovery time for seniors can vary based on factors such as age, overall health, and the individual’s commitment to rehabilitation. However, being well informed about the knee replacement recovery process can help you offer the necessary support and encouragement during this crucial time.
In general, the initial recovery phase from a knee replacement lasts about six to 12 weeks, with patients regaining mobility and independence gradually. During this period, it’s crucial to follow health care professionals’ advice and engage in physical therapy to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion. Caregivers should be patient and understanding as their senior loved ones adapt to new limitations and learn to use assistive devices like walkers, canes, or crutches.
Long-term recovery may take up to a year or more, with ongoing improvements in function and pain relief. It’s important to remember that each individual’s recovery journey is unique, and maintaining a positive attitude, offering emotional support, and keeping open communication with health care providers can significantly impact the success of elderly knee replacement recovery. By working together and staying informed, caregivers and their senior loved ones can navigate the recovery process with confidence and optimism.

The knee replacement procedure

During a knee replacement procedure, your loved one will be under general anesthesia while orthopedic surgeons replace the damaged knee joint with an artificial material connected to the femur and tibia. It’s essential to consider the knee replacement recovery time for elderly patients when planning for their surgery. Some may be eligible for a minimally invasive option, which involves a smaller incision and could potentially shorten the time to recover from knee surgery, as well as reduce pain during healing.
If both knees require replacements, your loved one might decide to undergo simultaneous surgeries, resulting in a longer initial recovery period due to limited mobility. Encourage your parent or loved one to discuss various approaches with their doctor and determine the best choice for their specific needs. You can better support your elderly loved one throughout their journey to improved mobility and a more comfortable life when you both understand the recovery process.

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Rehabilitation after knee replacement surgery

Following the surgery, your loved one will likely spend three to four days in the hospital. Their health care team will take their recovery needs into account to decide whether they should continue rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility (SNF), an inpatient rehabilitation facility (IRF), or if they can return home with outpatient care.
It’s crucial for your loved one to immediately work on increasing flexibility and achieving full knee extension to prevent internal scar tissue formation. Their therapist will also teach them mobility techniques to regain independence, including bed mobility, sit-to-stand transitions, and walking. You can support your loved one’s recovery journey by offering encouragement through difficult exercises and possibly keeping a chart of their progress. This will help them achieve a successful and more comfortable rehabilitation.

What to expect after a loved one has knee replacement surgery

During the initial stages of elderly knee replacement recovery, your loved one will likely use a walker for support. As their balance, endurance, and strength improve, their therapist will help them transition to crutches, a cane, or another assistive device. They’ll also learn to navigate uneven surfaces such as curbs, ramps, and stairs.
Occupational therapists will aid your loved one in mastering activities of daily living, including safe techniques for entering and exiting showers or tubs and dressing within their initial limitations using adaptive equipment if needed. They will also teach your loved one how to adjust their home activities, such as cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry, while using a walking device.

Tips for a successful recovery

As your loved one progresses through their recovery, they will gradually regain their independence and return to their daily activities. It is important to be patient and understanding as they adjust to new limitations and learn to use assistive devices. They’ll likely continue their therapy on an outpatient basis. These sessions are crucial for monitoring their knee replacement recovery progress, including strength and range of motion improvements.

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Both occupational and physical therapists will discuss any appropriate home safety instructions or modifications that might be needed. Recommendations may include the following:
  • Install grab bars. Mount grab bars in areas where extra support is needed, such as the bathroom (near the toilet and in the shower), on staircases, and in hallways.
  • Remove tripping hazards. Clear walkways of clutter, cords, and rugs that may cause trips and falls. Ensure that there are no loose carpets or flooring that could pose a hazard.
  • Install nonslip flooring. Use nonslip mats or adhesive strips in the bathroom, particularly in the shower or bathtub. Also consider placing nonslip mats in other areas with slippery surfaces, like the kitchen.
  • Improve lighting. Ensure that all areas of the home are well lit, particularly in hallways and on stairs. Install night lights or motion-activated lights to aid in navigation during the night.
  • Utilize a shower chair or bench. A shower chair or bench can provide stability and support while bathing, reducing the risk of slipping and falling in the shower.
  • Install a raised toilet seat. A raised toilet seat can make sitting down and getting up from the toilet easier, reducing strain on the knee and providing additional support.
  • Rearrange commonly used items. Keep frequently used items within easy reach to minimize bending and stretching. Consider reorganizing kitchen cabinets, closets, and storage areas.
  • Consider a temporary bedroom on the main floor. If possible, set up a temporary bedroom on the main floor to avoid climbing stairs during the initial stages of recovery. Ensure that this space has easy access to a full bathroom as well.
Your loved one’s health care team will advise on when it’s appropriate to resume activities like driving, which is typically around four to six weeks after surgery. However, the exact time to recover from knee surgery will vary for each individual. Encourage your parent to follow their doctor’s and therapist’s recommendations and avoid sports or strenuous activities until they’re cleared.

Where to find more help

Elderly knee replacement recovery can be a challenging time for both the patient and their caregiver. If you’re exploring care options for a loved one post-surgery, a Senior Care Advisor can help you explore home care solutions at no cost to your family. Remember to be patient, compassionate, and attentive to their needs, as your support will make a significant difference in their overall well-being and quality of life after knee surgery.


Meet the Author
Kindred Healthcare

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