Ostomy Care

ostomy-101What is Ostomy?

An ostomy is a surgical procedure that creates an alternative opening in the body for the elimination of waste material. Maintaining a loved one’s ostomy bag adds a new factor to your caregiving dynamic both emotionally and physically.  A person who faces this kind of surgery frequently has an emotional response to the loss of normal function akin to the 5 stages of grief.  A caregiver’s role can be crucial in helping their loved one adjust to this new reality and making sure their emotional and physical needs are met.

A caregiver will have to learn the details of their loved one’s condition, including the new skills necessary for this type of caregiving. It’s important to speak out and ask for help. Doctors, nurses and ostomy specialists are available for support. At the same time, caregivers should always encourage their loved one to do as much as they can on their own to facilitate independence and restore self-esteem.

The Fundamentals

An ostomy bag is placed over a surgical opening created in the bladder, ileum or colon for the temporary or permanent passage of urine and feces. The opening is called the stoma. Daily care is required to keep the skin around the stoma free from irritants and developing infection. While all situations will be unique depending on the location, the stoma will also vary in size and shape. A one- or two-piece pouching system collects the discharge. The tasks that come with caring for an ostomy bag include: emptying the pouch, applying the pouching system, assessing the skin and stoma, caring for the skin, changing the pouching system and making sure supplies are on hand at all times. Insurance carriers may vary in the type of systems they cover, so a caregiver should be sure to research this prior to ordering a lot of supplies.

After a loved one has used the ostomy bag for a bit, it is easier to determine when the best time to change and clean it each day will be. This depends on when it leaks the most, meals and personal schedules. It’s a task that cannot go undone for even a day.


Emotional Care

While the technical aspects are simpler to learn, the emotional ones can be trickier. Many emotions can come into play including intimacy with your partner, changes in body image and feeling of loss of privacy.  Oftentimes anger and frustration is directed toward those closest, and a caregiver is typically that safe outlet. It is important to help your loved one recognize that their usual activities may be resumed once their body heals from the surgery.

The first days after initial ostomy surgery may prove to be the most challenging. A caregiver plays a crucial role in helping their loved one establish a “new normal.” It’s not a secret it will take time for both to adapt to the demands and challenges of life with an ostomy bag, but together it can be easier. Quality of life will improve, and will the efficiency of the daily routine of cleaning/changing the bag itself.


Today’s Caregiver magazine (caregiver.com), launched in 1995, is the first national magazine for all family and professional caregivers. Each issue includes articles on vital caregiving issues and caregiving resources. Cover interviews include Debbie Reynolds, Dixie Carter, Valerie Harper, Della Reese and Clay Aiken, among many others. © Caregiver.com, Inc.