10 Caregiver Tips for Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement
Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is a surgical procedure designed to relieve aortic valve stenosis, which is a dangerous narrowing of the aortic valve that reduces blood flow through the aorta and out into the body. TAVR is much less invasive than the older, more traditional open heart surgery technique of aortic valve replacement.
Many patients receiving TAVR are poor candidates for major cardiothoracic surgery. TAVR is a less invasive, catheter-based technique. That means recovery time tends to be much shorter and easier. However, there will still be a recovery period. As a caregiver for someone who undergoes TAVR, you can play a very important role in getting them on the road to full recovery.
It’s important to start thinking ahead before your loved one is even discharged from the hospital. Start by making a few plans.
- Decide where to go first. Before the doctor decides it’s time to discharge your loved one from the hospital, ask about where it’s most appropriate for them to go next. For some patients, it might be beneficial to spend some time in a skilled nursing facility before going home for good—especially if you, the caregiver, have only a limited amount of time you can spend with your loved one at home after discharge.
- Arrange to stay with your loved one for at least a week after the operation. Most experts suggest that people who’ve returned home from the hospital after undergoing TAVR arrange for someone to stay at home with them for at least a week. If you don’t live with the person you’ll be caring for, make arrangements to stay in their guest room or sleep on the sofa in their home.
- Hire respite care. Once you head home from the hospital, you’ll be the primary caregiver. You might consider hiring a home health aide or assistant to help you out—or ask another relative or friend to come relieve you for a short period of time. Even the most dedicated caregivers need to take breaks and take care of themselves. It’s also useful to have a second set of eyes to make sure you don’t inadvertently miss any problems or signs of developing complications.
Once you’ve gotten your loved one settled at home, you’ll want to carefully watch out for complications or other troubling signs.
- Watch for symptoms of congestive heart failure to resolve. People who’ve had aortic stenosis often suffer from congestive heart failure, and it will take time for symptoms like ankle and leg swelling and shortness of breath to resolve after the surgery. If you’re noticing that those symptoms are worsening, however, it’s time to call the doctor.
- Monitor your loved one for weight gain. If your loved one starts putting on weight because too much fluid builds up in their body, it can also be a sign of congestive heart failure. Make sure you have access to a working scale, and help your loved one list weight and other signs in a daily journal.
- Take chest pain seriously. This is not the time to brush off chest pain or dizziness. Those symptoms, along with fainting spells, confusion, and difficulty breathing or the sudden onset of shortness of breath, can be very serious. Don’t wait to call for help.
- Be aware of signs of depression. It’s not uncommon to sink into depression after a cardiac event or surgery. If you notice your loved one seems down or withdrawn, ask them to consider talking to their doctor about it.
It might be tempting for your loved one to attempt all the usual routines of daily living as if nothing had happened. It’s your job to remind them that they just had surgery—and it’s important to be careful.
- Follow the doctor’s orders about exercise. This is not the time to dive into an intensive exercise regimen. However, the doctor may give the thumbs up to start with some mild exercise like walking at an easy pace and slowly build up from there.
- Eat, drink and stay hydrated. It’s important to follow the doctor’s recommendations on what to eat after surgery, but don’t forget the importance of staying appropriately hydrated, too. Figure out how you can help your loved one drink plenty of fluids, whether that’s keeping a pitcher of filtered water in the fridge, refilling a stainless steel water bottle, or some other strategy.
It’s also important to use caution when it comes to caring for those incisions.
- Watch the catheter incision for infection. If it starts to get red, swollen, or warm at the incision site or around the edges, or you notice some drainage, it’s time to call the nurse.
As your loved one recovers and begins to heal, you’ll get a better sense of the kind of help they need. Encourage them to attend all post-surgery follow-up visits at their doctor’s office and to follow any other care instructions they received.