Coping with Emotions after Surgery

The adjustments to life after surgery can take an emotional toll.  In fact, coping with emotions can seem devastating to an active senior who is suddenly confined to bed rest, not able to do things, and left feeling powerless.

“An unexpected complication for older adults in recovery from surgery can be depression,” said Alan Flory, President and CEO of ReDiscover.  “Before surgery, an individual may have to deal with the crisis of an accidental fall or making plans to participate in a scheduled medical procedure.  But, after surgery, daily life slows down considerably.  Patients may feel blindsided by unexpected feelings of vulnerability and a huge sense of loss, fear, and anxiety about coping with the future.”

It can be difficult for older adults to cope with how life has changed after surgery. Sometimes the warning signs of depression after surgery are missed or dismissed by medical professionals.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, “Health professionals may mistakenly think that persistent depression is an acceptable response to other serious illnesses and the social and financial hardships that often accompany aging—an attitude often shared by older people themselves. This contributes to low rates of diagnosis and treatment in older adults. Depression can and should be treated when it occurs at the same time as other medical illnesses. Untreated depression can delay recovery or worsen the outcome of these other illnesses.”

Psychiatrist Dr. Teresa Walker, ReDiscover Medical Director of Senior Services, said, “Surgery is a major turning point in anybody’s life. As a medical community we need to acknowledge that there’s much more going on with people than the physical side of their recovery.  A special concern for seniors is about recognizing signs of depression after surgery.  Older adults can recover more fully when symptoms of depression are recognized and treated.”

What can patients recovering from surgery do about depression?

“Become more knowledgeable about it,” Dr.  Walker said. “Depression is a strong feeling of sadness or emptiness that lasts more than 2 weeks. You may feel sad, tired, or irritable and you may lose interest in daily activities.  It helps to know that feelings of depression can be treated.”

Some signs of depression include the following feelings:

  • nervous
  • empty
  • worthless
  • that you don’t enjoy things you used to
  • restless
  • irritable
  • unloved
  • that life isn’t worth living


What proactive measures can you take to improve your situation?

Ask Questions.  Knowing what to expect after surgery can help in your recovery. Knowledge is empowering.  Information can reduce fear, worry, and confusion. If you’re not sure what to expect after surgery, ask your doctor.

Become As Active As Possible.  Even limited exercise has physical benefits and can improve your mood, self-esteem, and quality of life. Talk to your doctor about how to create an exercise program that’s right for you.

Let People Help. Don’t isolate yourself. Talking to your friends and family can make a difference.

Help is Available. ReDiscover provides support and treatment to older adults with depression in Jackson County, including Lee’s Summit, Grandview, Raytown and South Kansas City.



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