Caregiving During the COVID Crisis

As we wrote Tuesday, the circle keeps getting smaller.

We're seeing more and more folks we know face a coronavirus ("COVID-19") diagnosis. Hundreds of our readers have sent in questions about what to do and how to stay safe.

We're trying to answer some of the bigger questions in our Q&A tomorrow, but today we wanted to focus on a single topic: How do you take care of someone with COVID-19 without getting sick?

Honestly, this is one of our toughest questions. The main issue is that we don't know enough about the virus to know what level of precaution to take. But there are some basics I'd recommend...

If you're caring for someone who is mobile, I'd do the following:

  • Isolate them in a single room. If you have a bedroom with a bathroom attached, that's ideal.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Wash all surfaces at least daily. Don't forget about things like the TV remote or the light switches.
  • Only allow one person access to the sick individual. This caregiver should also stay home – don't leave the house and possibly spread any of the virus.
  • If they're able to, leave food outside their door and allow them to retrieve it once you've moved at least six feet away. When you retrieve the dishes, use gloves and sanitize all the dishes and utensils.
  • If you go into their room, wear a mask. Only an N95 respirator can block out the virus, so try and get one if possible.
  • Make sure they wear a mask whenever you are in their room. In theory, it reduces the spread of the virus (although I suspect fine particles are already in the air). And if you can get them to open a window for a few minutes before you come in, that might keep the viral load down as well.

When it comes to feeding the person who is sick, be sure they get enough fluids. (And drink enough yourself!) Hydration means our bodies have healthy, replenished mucus membranes. Those membranes in our nose and mouth help fight germs from getting in.

Plus, hydration means your cells can better fight off sickness. Get plenty of water, broth, soups, and electrolyte drinks (just avoid sugar).

Foods to boost the immune system include yogurt, leafy greens, fruits (particularly vitamin-C packed citrus fruits), broccoli, and berries.

Once they're recovered, be sure to wash all their linens. Disinfect their room. And don't forget to replace their toothbrush.

In addition to gloves and masks, it's good practice to protect your eyes. Goggles or a clear face mask would work.

But what if you want even more coverage?

If you opt to wear a cotton boiler suit or similar coverall to protect yourself, how will you clean it between uses? If you throw it in the wash, that means possibly contaminating the laundry room.

You could disrobe and throw it immediately into a trash bag, knot it, then carry it to the laundry. You can then open and dump it directly into the washing machine, then immediately throw the trash bag into a lined garbage bag. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and disinfect anything you touched.

Try to avoid sharing the same "air system." We're still trying to figure out how long the virus remains airborne and if it can get into air systems like the flu does. Play it safe and keep the windows open in the non-isolated part of the house.

There's another part of this pandemic and it is perhaps the most important... Remaining isolated will take a toll on you mentally and emotionally. Try and connect to your loved ones with apps like Facetime or Facebook video messenger, or do what I do and use WhatsApp which allows me to communicate with and between Apple, Microsoft, and Android users. Call everyone. For many, a structured routine can help. Establish a schedule for the day – time to read, time to watch TV, time to eat, time to wash up, etc.

Exhaustion hits caregivers too. Don't forget to take care of yourself – reach out to friends and family members, practice self-care, meditate.

Finally, if you care for someone who is immobile – you need to reach out to their doctor for guidance. Depending on the severity of the illness and any underlying conditions that might prevent them from being able to stand or use the restroom without help, they may need care somewhere else besides your home.

Taking care of yourself and others is crucial during this time. But we know you have a lot more questions on your mind... so make sure to read tomorrow's Q&A issue dedicated to concerns about coronavirus.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
March 19, 2020