Supporting Your Spouse in Post-Hospital Rehab

senior couple smiling at camera outside of a transportation bus for seniors

You’ve successfully gotten your spouse through their surgery and have helped them make the transition to an inpatient post-hospital rehabilitation center for their recovery. Do you know what’s coming next?

Here’s what you can expect during their stay at the rehab center and the transition home, as well as tips and advice to make the most out of the process.

How to Support Your Spouse

What to Pack

When your spouse first makes the transition from a hospital to a post-hospital rehabilitation center, it’s important to pack comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes that they can wear during physical or occupational therapy sessions.

As you pack for a rehab center stay, you’ll also want to bring things such as:

  • Personal care items and toiletries
  • Comfortable pajamas
  • Exercise clothing
  • Family photos or keepsakes to personalize their room
  • Chargers for cell phones and tablets
  • Books, puzzles and other entertainment items

Most rehab centers will have fully furnished rooms, so you don’t need to worry about packing blankets or pillows. However, if they would prefer to use their own, patients are welcome to.


Related: Ask the Expert: Types of Post-Hospital Therapy for Seniors


Realistic Expectations for Rehab

For many patients and their spouses, inpatient rehab is an entirely new experience. If your spouse has never had major surgery before or is unfamiliar with the rehab process, it can be intimidating and, at times, frustrating.

That’s why it’s so important to keep realistic expectations for rehab. For example, if your spouse is eager to be home and expects to be out of rehab in a few days, you’ll want to keep that expectation in check. The average length of stay in rehab is 12.4 days, but a lot of different factors can affect that, including age, severity of condition and motivation to complete therapy.

It can also help put both your mind and your spouse’s mind at ease if you know what to expect from the process as a whole. Everyone’s experience is different due to individualized therapy plans, but here’s the basic outline of what to expect from a stay in post-hospital rehabilitation:

  • The patient is admitted from the hospital.
  • The therapy center conducts an assessment of the patient’s condition and creates a personal care plan that includes diet, medication and physical, occupational and/or speech therapy.
  • A care conference is held with the person receiving care, their loved ones and care team members. During the conference, you’ll go over the therapy schedule and start discussing discharge plans.
  • The patient completes therapy according to their therapy plan. The amount and frequency depend on their needs, but typically they will receive therapy about five days a week with about one hour each day for each necessary discipline (physical, occupational and speech therapy).
  • When the patient is ready to be discharged, staff will work with the patient and their loved ones to prepare a discharge plan. The discharge may include additional outpatient therapy.

Understanding Your Role as a Family Caregiver

During the rehab process and care conferences, you play a vital role as the loved one of your spouse. You may not realize it, but you have something very valuable to contribute to the care team.

You know your loved one better than anyone. You alone can provide the care team with information they need about your spouse’s personality, including what motivates them and how they prefer to communicate.

Next Step In Care is an excellent resource for family caregivers. They offer these insights for caregiver contributions during the rehab process:

  • Patient motivation. Does your loved one respond well to a challenge, or would they prefer not to be pressured? Do they need a lot of praise to motivate them? Talk to the rehab staff so they know what works best.
  • Relationships with therapists. Everyone’s personality is different. Clue your spouse’s therapists in on any personality traits that may affect their rehab and that can be incorporated into their treatment plan.
  • Feelings. If you feel like your spouse is feeling frustrated, tired, discouraged, overwhelmed, etc. during the rehab process, have a conversation with the staff.


Related: Ask the Expert: What Are Some Examples of Therapy Exercises?


Supporting Your Spouse During the Transition Home

Discharge Planning

The good news is, you don’t need to worry about planning for your spouse’s discharge. The staff at the rehab center will work with you and your spouse to create a discharge plan. That plan will take into account things such as the transition home, necessary equipment and any follow-up care or rehab.

During the discharge planning, it’s important to be open and honest with the care team about your limitations. For example, if you work outside the home and will have limited time to devote to being a caregiver for your spouse, you’ll need to let the team know that so they can provide the best recommendations for your situation.

As the experts at Family Caregiver Alliance point out, “the discharge staff will not be familiar with all aspects of your relativeʼs situation. As caregiver, you are the ‘expert’ in your loved oneʼs history. While you may not be a medical expert, if youʼve been a caregiver for a long time, you certainly know a lot about the patient and about your own abilities to provide care and a safe home setting.”

Managing Stress

Surgery and rehab can be stressful on both the patient and their loved ones—especially if it was an emergency surgery. It can take a toll on both your relationship as spouses and on your mental health as a caregiver.

Psychiatrist and caregiver health researcher Peter Rabins, M.D., M.P.H., co-director of the geriatric psychiatry and neuropsychiatry division at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, recommends these strategies for caring for a spouse during a health challenge:

  • Listen and share. Let your spouse talk about their concerns and share your own. Spend time together as you used to whenever possible, whether that be taking an evening walk or enjoying a quiet breakfast together.
  • Stay informed. “The more you know, the better,” Rabins says. “It’s OK to start with the Internet, but make sure you find reliable websites that provide accurate, up-to-date medical information. Be sure to ask health care providers questions too.” He also recommends you talk to doctors together so you’re both on the same page.
  • Avoid “nagging.” As a caregiver, you’ll likely be helping your spouse with things like diet, exercise and medication. However, sometimes it can feel like nagging. Rabins suggests you ascribe directions to their healthcare providers. He writes, “instead of saying to your partner, ‘You must take all of your pills,’ you can say, ‘I asked the doctor and she said it’s most important to take these medications on a strict schedule, but it’s OK to take this one a little later.’”

Finally, one of the most important things you can do as your spouse’s caretaker is to take care of your own emotional and physical health. Accept help when it’s offered and take time to recharge your batteries.