Living with a Wound: Psychological Considerations

A wound is commonly defined as a disruption to the integrity of body tissues and functions. Living with a wound not only entails the physical care of the wound itself, such as cleaning and disinfecting, irrigating, changing dressings and other treatment modalities; it also involves the emotional and psychological care of the patient.

The health care cost for chronic wound care in the United States ranges from 5 to 9 billion dollars annually. There are physical and emotional components to successful wound care during the entire cycle of treatment and healing. Both the physical and emotional components require professional assessment and care.

Psychological Considerations

Physical pain is a common and distinct characteristic of an acute or chronic wound. There are a variety of medical treatments available to help address and manage physical pain. However, managing the psychological component of living with a wound can be more complex.

Studies show that patients who suffer from anxiety or depression about their physical condition usually experience a much slower healing process than those patients with an upbeat attitude. Emotional or psychological considerations are felt in many different ways when living with a wound. A patient who is living with a wound may experience:

  • Anxiety about potential job loss, finances and overall health outcome.
  • Depression over a reduced quality of life and loss of independence.
  • Embarrassment about potential wound odor, visible wound drainage and wardrobe adjustments to accommodate an often-bulky wound dressing.
  • Shame or feeling like a burden on family members and caregivers.
  • Grief about loss of bodily function and an altered body image.
  • Isolation from friends and family due to decreased mobility, depending upon location and impact of wound.
  • Feelings of worthlessness may becomes overwhelming when multiple emotions are experienced.
Patients with wounds can experience a wide range of emotions. Living with a wound, whether acute or chronic, entails lifestyle adjustments. With the proper physical and emotional support, patients can successfully navigate this journey.

Treatment Options

There are many facets to treating the psychological effects of living with a wound. There are the physical wound care treatments, and also the less tangible, emotional and psychological treatments. Some of the treatment methods and approaches that help patients recover psychologically during wound care include:

  • Medical treatment delivered by an empathetic and compassionate care giver helps a wound patient cope with the reality of their medical condition. One effective method that offers positive reinforcement to a patient during treatment is digital photography. It is often difficult for a patient to acknowledge slow and steady improvement of a significant wound. However, if a care giver takes a weekly or bi-weekly digital photograph of the wound, the healing process can be more easily recognized and acknowledged by the patient.
  • Modern wound care with specialized treatments and waterproof, low profile dressings can help to reduce pain, wound drainage, odor and leakage. Waterproof dressings can also allow the patient to shower more easily.
  • Become educated about the wound condition the patient is dealing to help allay anxiety about the healing process.
  • Support groups for patient and family members (caregivers) will allow open sharing with others in a similar situation.
  • Relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing or guided imagery can help release tension.
  • A stress management program can help develop coping mechanisms.
  • Reduce isolation by visiting with family and friends on a regular basis. Social interaction keeps the patient feeling vital to society and the family dynamic.
  • Embrace one enjoyable activity each day: hobbies, a new interest, listen to music or read a good book. This diversion will have a positive impact on the patient's overall mental status.
  • Professional counseling sessions can be a helpful outlet to vent feelings to a neutral party. A licensed therapist can offer professional suggestions for effective coping mechanisms.
While living with a wound, a patient needs competent medical care that addresses the physical aspects of wound treatment, as well as a creative approach to psychological treatment and support. Professional staff, family, friends and self-directed health care all contribute to the success of the selected course of treatment.
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