Amputation

Some ways you can help a loved one adapt to amputation.

Whether a loved one recently became an amputee or has been one for quite some time, your role is to encourage him or her to be active in all aspects of his or her care. This means asking specific, pointed questions of doctors and therapists, following all the way through on rehabilitation, and careful monitoring and care of the amputation site.

It’s also a good idea to “shop around” when it comes to choosing a prosthetist and prosthesis. The members of a support group, in addition to offering the comfort of shared experience, can usually offer recommendations.

Emotional Aspects

Problems with mobility and a real or perceived loss of self-sufficiency can cause depression or anxiety, setting back rehabilitation and recovery. Grief, too, is a common reaction. Many amputees actually experience a “mourning period” as they adjust to the change in their appearance and physical limitations.

When an amputation occurs because of a sudden event, there’s likely going to be a period of shock or denial. If the amputation is upcoming or occurred as a consequence of diabetes or other chronic illness, thoroughly discussing what to expect with doctors, counselors, or social workers is a good idea. Sit down with your loved one and prepare questions ahead of appointments. Ask for written information about the surgical procedure itself, as well as an estimated rehabilitation schedule.

Keep in mind that amputation often changes the way a person feels about themselves, and encourage your loved one to talk with someone who truly knows what new amputees go through. You might even ask doctors and nurses about the possibility of peer visitation as a way of easing the emotional adjustment.

Rehabilitation

Conditioning and strengthening exercises typically begin immediately after surgical recovery. In certain cases, endurance exercises may be included. A well-crafted physical therapy program takes age, pre-amputation condition and overall health into account.

Make sure the therapist coordinates with the prosthetist, and continue to have ongoing communication with the surgeon. Of the three, the therapist spends the most time with your loved one, so they are really the person best equipped to troubleshoot problems.

Good therapists really are essential. They can provide motivation, making it easier to set goals and reach them, and they know what to expect from the highs and lows of recovery. It’s important to work with someone your loved one is truly comfortable with.

Choosing a prosthetist

The choice of prosthetist is up to your loved one. The doctor, surgeon, or therapist may provide recommendations or referrals, but choosing a service is best approached like any other important purchase. Shop around before making a selection. Ask the doctor or physical therapist to provide the names of other amputees in your loved one’s area, and see what they recommend. Understand the role of prosthetists, who sell these products as part of a business. There’s no regulation preventing them from selling prosthetics at mark-up, so it’s important to do your own research and study the different parts and choices as well the manufacturing process.

The fitting process can be an expensive and even exhausting undertaking. Physical changes over the first year often require repeated re-fitting or alterations. While prosthetics are designed to help amputees assert their independence and promote efficiency, your loved one should try to keep his or her expectations realistic—particularly in that first year.

Becoming an amputee can be a traumatic experience, bringing with it a host of lifestyle changes, and making even the smallest adjustments to former habits of everyday living can be a source of hidden frustration. But adapting to these changes doesn’t have to become the defining factor in a person’s life, or prevent him or her from living a full and active life.

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