What happens when a carer gets sick? 

Why you should avoid caring | How long to recover | Preparing for sickness | Creating a respite care plan 

Posted 3rd August 2023  |   |  6 minute read

Written by Jesse Gramenz Reviewed by Julie Dymock

a carer sick and bed with a tea her dog curled up beside her



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. 

Everyone gets sick: It’s unavoidable. 

Illness is nasty at the best of times, but especially when you’re a carer. From the common cold, to more serious illnesses, let’s talk about what happens (and what to do) when you get sick as a carer, and better yet, how to prepare for it.

Reasons to avoid caring while being unwell

The bottom line is, if you can avoid it, you don’t want to be caring for someone you love while you’re not feeling 100% 


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!  


Contagious Period 

Common Cold 

1-2 days before symptoms start until about 5-7 days after 

Recovery: 7-10 days 

Influenza (Flu) 

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! 

Getting sick more regularly?

aged care carer looking stressed

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. 


  • Major surgeries

  • Cancer and Chemotherapy,  

  • Autoimmune Diseases,  

  • Mental Health Disorders,  

  • Cardiovascular Diseases,  

  • Chronic Respiratory Diseases,  

  • Diabetes,  

  • Kidney Disease, 

  • ...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 loveThere’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 

  • Resting appropriately 

  • Making sure you’re spending time with kids and other family outside of caring 



The best way to deal with sickness as a carer, is to be prepared before it even happens! Sickness is sudden. A cold comes in a couple days. A diagnosis can change your world overnight. Preparation is a carer’s best friend and that means putting together a respite care plan. 


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. 

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 StatusDetailed 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 RoutineDetailed 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 ContactsProvide a list of people to be contacted in case of an emergency, along with their relationship to your loved one and their contact details. 

  • PreferencesThis 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 DocumentsInformation 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. 

a carer working with an elderly resident in a garden bed


Whether you’re going through a 48 hour bug or a longer term illness, you can organise care  that takes place at home, in the community or in an aged care facility. The choice is up to you and can be tailored for your loved ones’ needs. Whatever combination of services you choose, you can get access to: 


  • 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 

  • ...and more! 


Learn more about the respite options available to you here. 



Parting thoughts 

Whether you get help from family and friends or from a dedicated respite serviceit’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).

Find respite care with St Vincent's

St Vincent's offers respite care across major cities and areas including Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Townsville, Sydney & Melbourne.

From respite services in our aged care homes to respite support in your home, we can support you when you need a break as a caregiver.

aged care staff with residents on balcony


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) 

  • Talking through your options for care and putting you in touch with the aged care and home care experts who work with other people who have gone through the exact same thing you ar