What happens when a carer gets sick?
Posted 3rd August 2023 | Reviewed by Julie Dymock MBA-HM | 6 minute read
As a carer, you're going to be unwell at some point. But it's important you have the tools you need to feel comfortable to take the time off when you need it.
Reasons to avoid caring while being unwell
While it might seem difficult, taking a break from caring can be the best thing to avoid:
Passing on our sickness to the person we’re caring for
Feeling inadequate with the quality of care we’re providing
Worsening our own sickness or prolonging it further
Saying something we might regret
When you’ve fallen ill, or are battling with long term illnesses, getting additional support in the form of respite care services, or support from family or close friends can offer a valuable break, allowing you to rest and recharge.
“If I was at home, I'd be trying to do things I’m not supposed to be doing and trying to help around the house. But I know that when I come here, I’m here to rest. And that’s what I do.”
Graham – St Vincent’s Aged Care Respite Care Resident
How long should I wait before caring again?
Caring for another person takes a lot of energy.
Even something as simple as the common cold can sap your energy and leave you open to being contagious. On top of this, it’s even common for carers to overwork themselves caring and fall ill as a result!
While not a comprehensive guide, the below table shows that oftentimes we need to take a little longer to recover than we think – even from illnesses that might only be with us for a few days!
1-2 days before symptoms start until about 5-7 days after
Recovery: 7-10 days
1 day before symptoms start until 5-7 days after getting sick
Recovery: 1-2 weeks
2 days before symptoms start until 10 days after symptoms first appeared (can be longer for severe cases or immunocompromised individuals)
Recovery: Mild cases: 2 weeks
Gastroenteritis (Stomach flu)
From the onset of symptoms until at least 48 hours after symptoms cease
Recovery: 1-3 days for most people, but can be up to 10 days
Think of it this way: Healthcare staff in aged care need to be 100% recovered before coming back to work to be at their best. If they can, so should you!
Major illnesses and surgery recovery
Major illnesses and surgery recovery
If you’re going through extended period of treatment for ongoing illness or even recovering from a surgery, it might be better to consider longer term care options that can help you take a load off.
Cancer and Chemotherapy,
Mental Health Disorders,
Chronic Respiratory Diseases,
...and more can all force you to feel fatigued or take you away from your home from an extended period of time.
Having an illness or needing time to recover can make it that much harder to care for the person you love. There’s no quick solution to ongoing medical treatment which is why extra support can be so important.
The secret to sickness is preparation
No matter what kind of illness we have whether it be chronic and ongoing or small and short-lived, it’s important to plan and make sure you have the support necessary where you need it for the times you can’t be available as a caregiver including:
Putting time aside to visit a doctor
Picking up any medication you need
Getting any relevant tests done
Making sure you’re spending time with kids and other family outside of caring
What is a Respite Care Plan?
A respite care plan is a contingency strategy that carers can activate when they need a break, are ill, or have other commitments. As a caregiver, your first thought might be, "Who will take care of my loved one?" With a respite care plan in place, you can minimize a bit of that stress.
A respite care plan provides peace of mind, knowing that your loved one’s care is uninterrupted no matter the circumstances.
What do I need in a respite care plan?
A respite care plan that is best for the person you care for is one that is thorough and detailed. Here are some key elements you should include in your plan:
Basic Personal Information: Include the full name, date of birth, address, and other contact information of your loved one.
Medical History & Current Health Status: Detailed medical information is crucial. This should include a list of medical conditions, allergies, medications, and their dosages. Additionally, any ongoing treatments or therapies should be outlined.
Daily Routine: Detailed information about your loved one's daily routine - including meal times, medication schedule, exercise or therapy routines, and other regular activities eg. Do they like to have morning/afternoon tea? Is there a time during the day they prefer to be left alone to have a quiet read?
Emergency Contacts: Provide a list of people to be contacted in case of an emergency, along with their relationship to your loved one and their contact details.
Preferences: This could include your loved one's dietary preferences, likes and dislikes, preferred activities, and any special needs or accommodations eg. Do they like watching The Chase on at 5pm with a cup of tea and their favourite slippers?
Legal Documents: Information on any relevant legal documents such as power of attorney, advanced care directives, or other legal paperwork.
Respite Care Provider Details: Contact information of the respite care provider, whether it's a professional service or a family member.
What would respite include?
The great thing about getting respite care for you and your loved one is that there is more choice than ever for how you go about getting support.
Visiting health professionals (such as nurses and GPs)
Gardeners and cleaners to help with domestic chores
Lifestyle activities such as barbecues and outings (in an aged care home or at a community center)
Social visits from staff
Transport options for going to and from appointments
Learn more about the respite options available to you here.
Whether you get help from family and friends or from a dedicated respite service, it’s crucial to remember that as a carer, you can’t do it all alone and there’s no expectation from anyone (even professional carers) that you could.
Get the support you need and don’t look back – it could be the best decision you make (for the both of you).
Related respite articles
4 steps to having a (mostly) stress free holiday as a carer
What happens when a carer reaches their limit?
Respite care fees in Australia
Still not sure where to start?
St Vincent’s has a dedicated contact centre team that can help put you in the right direction with getting started with respite including:
Helping you navigate My Aged Care
Giving you clarity on the next steps you need to take to get the break you need (and deserve)