Dear Dr. Yael,
My mother recently had a knee replacement and is going into rehab. While in general she is a happy and positive person, at this time she is very depressed. And that will make her physical therapy harder and her recovery time longer. We have done everything we can think of to cheer her up, but nothing seems to be working. Usually, she enjoys spending time with family and especially her grandchildren, today, though, nothing seems to make her happy. We know she is in pain, but we also know that she needs to be motivated and focused if she is going to do well in rehab.
Do you have any ideas or suggestions?
“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
I believe you can help your mother by getting her involved in helping others. If the grandchildren like to do homework with her maybe she can help them from her bed – it may prove to be a great distraction.
That being said, a knee replacement is very painful and it’s possible the pain may be hindering her sleep, which can also be exacerbating her negative feelings. Please find out if this is the case, and speak to her doctor to see how she can be helped.
Knee replacements also come with certain risks, which can include changes to a person’s state of mind that will manifest in increased anxiety, depression, and insomnia. There are a multitude of reasons for this: decreased mobility, increased dependency on others, pain or discomfort, and/or side effects to medication. Perhaps your mother is feeling depressed because she has lost a huge sense of her independence. Hopefully her dependency will be temporary, but at this point, she has no way of knowing that and she may be feeling very helpless.
It is important for your mother to have as much independence as possible. Having her help you with whatever she can will go a long way to making her feel useful. It is also important for her to talk about her feelings; it’s not always easy for children to talk to their parents about their feelings, but take the time to do so.
Research shows that depression is very common after having knee replacement surgery and that symptoms usually recede within three to four weeks. Hopefully these emotional changes in your mother are temporary, and it is important for your mother to know that these feelings are normal. However, keep an eye on her and if there isn’t a change within that period of time, speak with her doctor so that he can intervene medically if necessary.
I would like to end with this amazing story told by someone whose father suffered a stroke.
“My father suffered a serious stroke three years ago. Much of his body was paralyzed. After his initial medical care, he went to for rehab. At first, he was very depressed. He felt everything good in his life had been taken from him. And then one night, his mood changed, his whole attitude was different. I thought perhaps the physical therapy was beginning to work, returning his strength and control or that perhaps they changed his medications. Then I learned the truth: At eleven o’clock, he excused himself, and told me he had an appointment. Who do you have an appointment with at eleven o’clock at night? I asked. And he told me that a few nights before they brought in a kid who had been in a terrible motorcycle accident. The kid was completely paralyzed, his body almost destroyed. The kid was so depressed, he was suicidal. He saw nothing in his future, so he refused to take his medications. He wanted to die. They brought in social workers and psychologists and psychiatrists, but no one could reach the kid – except my father. With his own body broken, he wheeled himself into the kid’s room each night when it was time for medications. My father sat with him and talked, basically talked him into staying alive for just another day. He talked him off the abyss and back into life. That’s what healed my father.”
As I said, get your mother to help others, it will give her immeasurable joy and will allow her to heal. Of course, she has to first get some of her strength back, but as soon as you can help her get involved with other things, the better she will feel. It sounds like she is an amazing grandmother, so some involvement on the phone helping the grandchildren, even for a few minutes could be great. Hatzlocha in this trying situation and may your mother have a complete refuah sheleima and return back to her positive and happy self.