Caregiving during a pandemic or illness

The role of the caregiver does not stop during an illness, or a pandemic

Caregivers must take care of themselves and their loved ones. Here are suggestions from Emory University Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Self-Care

  • It is likely that you are the person with whom your person has the most daily contact, so the best protection for the person is for you not to acquire the virus.    

Handwashing and Sanitizing

  • If you or the person leaves the home, wash your hands – both of you – when you come back. Do it right away and do it for 20 seconds (sing Happy Birthday twice).

Manage Underlying Chronic Conditions

  • If the person has one or more chronic conditions, these are already taxing the immune system.
  • Adhere to management regimens to prevent the condition from worsening and further taxing the person’s system.

 Monitoring

  • Watch yourself and your person for symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat).

Social Distancing

  • Remove yourself and your person from close contact with groups of people. This is admittedly very difficult, so here are some thoughts:
  • If you are working outside the home, see if it is possible to work at a distance through telecommuting means (phone and videocall contact, etc.)
  • Examine patterns of social interactions. o If you regularly attend worship services, see if your place of worship offers streamed services, or consider using the regular time of attendance as a time of home worship.
  • If you take your person shopping or to malls, reconsider. Perhaps use smaller shops at off-hours, and avoid very crowded places
  • Think about outings that present minimal risks: going to large parks, taking walks
  • Here’s a really hard one: family visits. Keep them small. Ask everyone who comes to follow the same safety rules you are (wash hands). No grandkid visits

Medication and care

  • Help your loved one follow their healthcare provider’s instructions for medication(s) and care.

Help around the house

  • Help with basic needs in the home and provide support for getting groceries, prescriptions, and other personal needs.

Monitor their symptoms

  • If your person is getting sicker, call his or her healthcare provider and tell them that the patient has laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 (if this is applicable). This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people in the office or waiting room from getting infected.
  • Ask the healthcare provider to call the local or state health department for additional guidance.
  • If they have a medical emergency and you need to call 911, notify the dispatch personnel that the patient has, or is being evaluated for COVID-19.

Give them space

  • Household members should stay in another room or be separated from the patient as much as possible.
  • Household members should use a separate bedroom and bathroom, if available.

Household members should care for any pets in the home

Make sure that shared spaces in the home have good air flow, such as by an air conditioner or an opened window, weather permitting.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

 

If you or your loved one has COVID-19

The patient should wear a facemask when you are around other people

  • If the patient is not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), you, as the caregiver, should wear a mask when you are in the same room as the patient.

Wear a disposable facemask and gloves

  • When you touch or have contact with the patient’s blood, stool, or body fluids, such as saliva, sputum, nasal mucus, vomit, urine.
  • Throw out disposable facemasks and gloves after using them. Do not reuse.
  • When removing personal protective equipment, first remove and dispose of gloves. Then, immediately clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Next, remove and dispose of facemask, and immediately clean your hands again with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid sharing household items with the patient

  • You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding, or other items. After the patient uses these items, you should wash them thoroughly (see below “Wash laundry thoroughly”).

Clean all “high-touch” surfaces often

  • Counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables, every day. Also, clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them.
  • Use a household cleaning spray or wipe, according to the label instructions. Labels contain instructions for safe and effective use of the cleaning product including precautions you should take when applying the product, such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product.

Wash laundry thoroughly

  • Immediately remove and wash clothes or bedding that have blood, stool, or body fluids on them.
  • Wear disposable gloves while handling soiled items and keep soiled items away from your body. Clean your hands (with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) immediately after removing your gloves.

Read and follow directions on labels of laundry or clothing items and detergent. In general, using a normal laundry detergent according to washing machine instructions and dry thoroughly using the warmest temperatures recommended on the clothing label.

Place all used disposable gloves, facemasks, and other contaminated items in a lined container before disposing of them with other household waste

  • Clean your hands (with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) immediately after handling these items. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Discuss any additional questions with your state or local health department or healthcare provider. Check available hours when contacting your local health department.

Footnotes

1Home healthcare personnel should refer to Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Patients with Known or Patients Under Investigation for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in a Healthcare Setting.