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Caring for Loved One with Colostomy

The thought of caring for an ostomy most likely is low on your list until your loved one needs one. A stoma is an opening that redirects stool or urine out of the body through the abdomen. A colostomy is a redirection through the large intestine; an ileostomy is a redirection through the small intestine.

Ostomies are created usually because of a disease in the intestines, or affectation of the bowels. They can be difficult to care for, at first. Technology has come a long way in helping individuals with ostomies to handle this new activity of daily living. As a caregiver, you can help, too.

Know that not all ostomies are permanent. There are also some that are reversible, because of particular surgeries, where the colon is allowed to heal. The colon is then reattached and the stoma is closed.

After the surgery to create the opening, or stoma, there will be a period of adjustment for your loved one where he or she will need to learn about emptying and cleaning the ostomy appliance. There are different styles--one pouch or two pouch--that have skin barriers and safety clips. Essentially, your loved one will empty his or her pouch when it is half full in a visit to the bathroom, clean it and attach a fresh pouch.

It’s one thing to actually take care of the stoma, but what about the social aspect? What about the odor or embarrassment? What if my loved one can’t empty the pouch on his own.

Understanding of the situation is the key to successful care. It would behoove you to meet with a wound/ostomy/continence care (WOC) nurse. These nurses are specifically trained in this kind of care. They can help you learn to keep the ostomy clean--and at the same time--get information to the rest of family and friends who either don’t know what it’s all about or are afraid of the process.

There are also several support groups and web sites available for those individuals who need ostomies and their caregivers. The first step is to talk to your doctor or WOC care nurse. Know that you and your loved one are not alone and that this is not the end of the world, just a “new normal.”

Resources: International Ostomy Association, American Cancer Society