Most people who fall ill from COVID-19 don’t need advanced medical attention. Some benefit from a caretaker, a person committed to help manage recovery. Caring for someone else is a big responsibility. You want to fully understand how to properly care for your loved one, and for yourself, when dealing with a contagious illness like COVID-19. We can help you prepare.
What makes a good caretaker
COVID-19 caretakers put themselves in potentially harmful situations. Caretakers should be compassionate, flexible and in good health. Those who are fully vaccinated are much less likely to contract COVID-19 than those who are not vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages caregiving for those who have a compromised immune system or a chronic condition like heart disease or diabetes.
Many people who contract COVID-19 become physically unable to keep up with their daily activities. They may need help with basic needs, like shopping for groceries and caring for pets. As a caretaker, you may need to coordinate visits to the doctor that could be in-person or virtual. Your loved one will probably be asked to stay home. Picking up their medication and helping them follow their doctor’s orders, like resting and drinking fluids, are essential duties.
Maintaining cleanliness and personal hygiene stops COVID-19 from spreading. Identify frequently touched objects and surface areas and clean them often, in some cases, after each use. Household soap and detergent kill virus particles that collect on doorknobs, tables, light switches, canes, walkers and countertops.
Wearing a mask
Masks keep droplets from passing to others. You and your loved one should wear a mask any time you are in the same area. Your loved one should mask any time they are around others, even outdoors. Masks are most effective when worn properly, covering the nose and mouth.
Keeping contact minimal
Limiting contact is hard, but it’s the most effective way to avoid spreading the virus. Keep personal items separated, like utensils, plates and towels. Stay in separate rooms, including bedrooms and bathrooms. If you’re unable to maintain physical distance, make sure your surroundings have good air circulation. You can open windows or run fans.
Keeping your loved one socially active
Isolation is taxing. Make sure your loved one can still communicate with others throughout their recovery. Your loved one can stay connected, even at a distance, by greeting the mailperson from the window or receiving mail from family. Video calls through smartphones and laptops bring friends, family members and care team members right to your loved one without risking anyone’s safety.
Knowing your signs
As a caretaker, you can observe and monitor your loved one’s condition. COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. If these symptoms begin to worsen, you may want to consider taking your loved one to the emergency room.
Emergency warning signs include:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Labored breathing
- Skin that has turned pale, gray or blue
Preparing for the unexpected
If your loved one’s condition worsens, seek emergency care immediately. Prepare a medical “go bag” ahead of time. In case of emergency, you can grab the bag in a hurry. You won’t waste critical time pulling items together, and you’ll reduce the likelihood that you’ll forget to bring something important to the hospital. Also, make sure you have a plan in case you, the caretaker, get sick. Designate an emergency contact with your loved one who can fulfill your duties if you are not able. Make sure your loved one has plenty of food, water, medication and other essentials. Many businesses offer delivery now. You may want to research the options ahead of time to help avoid panic.
Helpful items for a caretaker
- Eye protection (face shield or goggles)
- Dish soap, hand soap and laundry soap
- Hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol
- Medical masks
- Over the counter medication to reduce fever (ibuprofen, acetaminophen)
- A thermometer
- Tissues and disposable paper towels
Caring for yourself
Caregiving can take its toll. Don’t feel discouraged if you face challenges. Watch for symptoms of burnout, like poor eating habits, difficulty sleeping and feeling of hopelessness. You need to meet your needs to be able to help your loved one.
You can help care for yourself through:
- Breaking a big task into small, achievable steps
- Eating a healthy diet
- Limiting news intake
- Exercising regularly
- Taking a break from caregiving to recharge