Open Heart Surgery Recovery Time For Elderly Patients: A Complete Guide

Does your loved one have heart issues? They may require open heart surgery. Here is how to support an elderly patient after their operation.

Open heart surgery is a major operation and shouldn’t be taken lightly, so if your elderly loved one has recently undergone this operation, you may be wondering how long it’ll take for them to recover.

Expect their rest and recovery period to last for a longer length of time if they have comorbidities before the operation.

We’re here to discuss the safety, recovery period, and post-operation treatment procedures for older patients after coronary bypass surgery.

Are Open Heart Surgeries Safe for Elderly People?

Thanks to improved surgical techniques, cardiac surgery has become a safer option for elderly patients.

Note that “safer” doesn’t mean “completely risk-free.” Older patients typically enter surgery with more risk factors that may hinder their survival prospects due to their advanced age.

The odds of a successful rehabilitation will differ between patients of the same age, as they may have different comorbidities or genetic factors that will change the outcome.

Advanced age won’t drastically affect a patient’s chances of survival since surgical techniques have advanced to give even octogenarians a good chance of fully recovering (1).

However, after a brief hospital stay and a significantly longer post-surgery recovery, even a senior citizen who’s 80 years old can resume their normal routine without issue.

Your loved one will be in the care of a large team of medical professionals, including an anesthesiologist and pump team, who will ensure your loved one is safe and fully recovered.

What Is the Open Heart Surgery Recovery Time for an Elderly Patient?

It’s unfeasible to prescribe a standard rest period since everyone’s recovery time differs. However, we can give a general range.

Ensure that the patient is sufficiently prepared for their operation by following the procedures listed below.

Most patients will spend one to one and a half weeks at the hospital for pre- and post-surgery recovery.

After they’ve been discharged, you must monitor them for an additional six to eight weeks as they continue to recover. This will require you to assist them in their daily living.

Remember to monitor your loved one’s chest incision as a possible source of issues, as they may experience clicking at the incision site as they breathe.

Your elderly loved one’s rest period may be significantly lengthened by any risk factors they have before the open heart surgery.

How Can You Prepare for the Surgery?

Before your loved one undergoes a coronary artery bypass surgery, their doctor will take them through a few procedures to ensure the procedure is a smoother experience.

Weeks Before

The first step begins a few weeks before the operation. If your loved one smokes or drinks consistently, they will be asked to stop to eliminate the risk of withdrawal post-surgery.

They can continue eating and drinking normally, but remember to set a strict cut-off time at midnight before their scheduled operation day.

Your loved one can only consume prescribed medicines after midnight. Remember to ask them to remove any prostheses or easily-lost valuables like jewelry or dentures.


Once your loved one is at the hospital, their assigned nurse will go over the operation with your loved one and gain their informed consent by asking for their signature.

A specialist will display and explain how to use an incentive spirometer, which is essential for breathing exercises and will help your loved one practice breathing properly.

Your loved one will also be given special soap to disinfect their chest and help guard against potential infection. Expect your loved one to be given sleeping medicine before the operation.

Their heart rate will be measured and monitored during their stay in the hospital, along with their blood pressure.

Several tubes will be inserted into your loved ones during their hospital stay, including breathing, catheter, stomach, and IV tubes.

What Are the Side Effects After Open Heart Surgery?

It’s typical for older adults to experience some lingering pains or aches after their open heart surgery, but they shouldn’t experience severe side effects if given proper care.

Here are a few common side effects that may affect elderly patients after their cardiac surgery:

  • Fatigue – Patients typically feel tired or experience other emotional issues after the operation.
  • Postoperative Pneumonia – Despite advancements in medical technology, elderly heart surgery patients commonly contract pneumonia.
  • Incision Issues – The chest incision is particularly susceptible to issues. Some of these include infection, continuous bleeding, and swelling at the wound. Remind your loved one to keep their incision site clean to avoid these.
  • Loss of Voice – Since the patient will be breathing through a breathing tube, they may lose their voice or be hoarse after the procedure. Their voice should return with enough time.
  • Sleeping Difficulties – Discomfort and anxiety may cause your loved one to lose sleep, either before or after the operation. Narrow down the cause of their sleep issues and consult their doctor for treatment.

What Are Predictors of the Outcome Post-surgery?

Old age is a general risk factor that can impact a patient’s recuperation period, but genetic factors may not apply to the general population.

Some predictors can affect a patient’s chances of fully recovering.


One mortality rate predictor is whether the procedure was an emergency operation or the patient was sufficiently prepared beforehand.

Without the proper preparation outlined above, a patient’s chance of surviving may be lower. There’s also the matter of the internal mammary artery.

The Artery Used

Surgeons have achieved a higher survival rate by using the internal mammary artery during coronary artery bypass grafting operations, but it may weaken during the healing period (2).

Heart Health

Another strong predictor is the patient’s heart health before the operation. Issues caused by diabetes can affect the body’s recovery period.

Myocardial infarction or heart attack that causes an emergency operation will be doubly taxing on an older patient.

Lung Health

A patient’s lung health is also an important predictor of recovery after open heart surgery.

Smokers are especially at risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. This disease can lead to other health issues like heart disease.

Excessive smoking can also cause a patient to have a high heart rate, which may cause inefficiencies in blood flow.

How to Care For Elderly Patients After Their Surgery

After one week or more has passed since your loved one’s surgery, they will be moved from the hospital’s intensive care unit to another ward, where they will continue their recovery.

Your loved one will see significant improvements in their health with proper care. Their doctor will likely prescribe pain medication to help them get through their pain.

Regardless of your loved one’s condition after the operation, ensure that they take their prescribed medications consistently and properly.

Post-surgery care may require the assistance of a home health aide to assist your loved one.

Their doctor may ask them to wear a thorax support vest after the operation to allow easy access to their sternum and give it more stability.

They may spend a few weeks mentally overcoming their fear of the operation and the possible side effects. This is normal; part of your job is to be present and reassure them.

Your loved one may wish to enter a cardiac rehabilitation program, where they will get some physical exercise to regain their strength pre-operation.

What Should Elderly People Avoid During Their Recovery Time?

Proper cardiac rehabilitation will take time, so it’s important to remind your elderly loved ones to expect a rest period of a few months or more.

Though they may be eager to resume their normal activities, it’s your job to facilitate an easier healing period and boost their survival chances by insisting they take their rest seriously.

Give your elderly loved one a better chance by asking them to refrain from most physical activities while they’re still actively recovering.

These activities include:

  • Household chores like mowing the lawn or using a vacuum cleaner
  • Driving a vehicle
  • Intense physical exercise like jogging or working out at the gym

When Should Elderly Patients Call Their Doctors?

If your loved one has recently undergone coronary artery bypass surgery, they should watch out for specific warning signs and keep in close contact with their doctor.

Elderly people who have recently undergone heart surgery and believe they may need follow-up appointments should watch out for these issues:

  • Chest Pain – Your loved one’s chest pains will typically be sharp but brief. If they linger, quickly consult a doctor.
  • Atrial Fibrillation – This will also result in an elevated heart rate, palpitations, and dizziness.
  • Fevers – Fevers can be fatal for the elderly, so act quickly if your loved one’s temperature rises past 101 degrees.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Concerned family members can check this section to learn more about coronary artery bypass grafting and how to care for a patient after this complex surgery.

What Is the Most Common Complication After Open Heart Surgery?

Regardless of whether the open heart surgery was performed on a set of younger patients or older, bleeding is the most common complaint of patients after a coronary artery bypass graft.

The patient’s chest incision will cause any bleeding or consistent pain, but this is normal, and your doctor and surgeon will monitor you throughout the rest period.

If the surgical site continues to bleed or the bleeding is internal, your doctor will take measures to correct this complication.

Can You Talk After Open Heart Surgery?

Immediately after completing a coronary artery bypass graft, your loved one won’t be able to speak afterward. A breathing tube will be inserted into their throat to give them oxygen.

Any family member who wishes to see the patient after their coronary bypass surgery may use notes to speak with them. Speaking and talking is not an option immediately after the operation.

What Is Myocardial Revascularization?

The phrase “open heart surgery” can refer to various procedures which are all slightly different in their execution.

A systematic review of multiple heart surgery techniques hasn’t found an effective definitive procedure to treat heart issues.

Revascularization is an alternative procedure to coronary artery bypass surgery performed on patients who cannot handle more common operations.

This operation entails lasers to create small holes in the patient’s heart to improve blood flow.

What Other Factors Can Affect Recovery Time?

A healthier adult typically has an easier time recovering from the operation than an unhealthy one. Several factors can have a negative impact on the healing period.

Some physical factors include any conditions caused by diabetes mellitus, such as higher blood pressure and angina, along with renal dysfunction. A body with more issues will take longer to heal.

An issue may arise during the operation while a cardiopulmonary bypass machine temporarily replaces the functions of your loved one’s heart.

A long cardiopulmonary bypass time puts your loved one at greater risk, so the surgery shouldn’t last too long.

How Does Open Heart Surgery Affect the Brain?

Many patients make a full recovery after surgery. Still, surgeons have observed an issue with their patient’s mental health and cognitive functions, now known as “postoperative operative cognitive dysfunction,” or POCD.

This issue may be more prevalent in elderly people due to their comorbidities brought on by age and their general health. It’s difficult to sufficiently determine whether the surgery causes this or general old age.

However, it is a risk that your doctor should mention before your loved one undergoes any operation, especially one as major as open heart surgery.

Are Elderly Women Less Likely to Survive Than Elderly Men?

While both men and women can experience complications due to cardiovascular disease or after undergoing heart surgery, a patient of the female gender or sex will typically have a lower survival rate.

This isn’t a doctor-led mistake or due to a fault in thoracic surgery techniques. It’s an observation that women are less likely to undergo more intensive operations.

Compared to men, women are less likely to enter the hospital for coronary artery bypass grafting than men. A prospective study of coronary bypass surgery patients may change this.

Fortunately, with greater advancements in techniques and technology, we may see earlier and more accurate diagnoses of cardiovascular disease in older women.


Coronary surgery is a daunting and complex procedure, but the procedure is ideal for elderly patients who want an improved quality of life post-operation.

It’s common for your elderly loved one to have good and bad days following the operation, but they won’t need to return to the hospital unless they experience severe complications.

With proper care and close monitoring, your loved one should be able to return to their daily routine without much issue.