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The European voice for informal carers

Conscious of its mission and in a modest attempt to address some of the challenges facing informal carers as a result of coronavirus, our secretariat has collected practical tips on its website. The information presented here essentially stems from our member organisations as well as from international organisations (World Health Organisation, ECDC, etc.) Please note that this collection exercise is still ongoing and so, stay tuned for additional guidelines in the coming days!

KNOW

How does the virus spread?

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus through inhaling small droplets from people with COVID-19 who cough or sneeze or through touching contaminated surfaces.

 

What are the symptoms?

Many people who become infected experience mild illness and recover, but it can be more severe for others. The symptoms include a combination of:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle pain
  • Tiredness

 

Accessing good-quality information

As the situation with coronavirus evolves, it’s important to know what support is available to you as an informal carer and those you look after. If you are worried that you or someone you look after may be at risk, you may be able to access guidance through your country’s national helpline.

Country Institute  Website National helplines
Austria Federal Ministry Republic of Austria: Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection Federal sozialministerium.at   +43 800 555 621
Belgium Federal Public Service: Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment info-coronavirus.be +32 800 14689
Bulgaria Ministry of Health mh.government.bg +359 2 807 87 57
Croatia Croatian Institute of Public Health hzjz.hr +385 91 468 30 32;

+385 99 468 30 01

Cyprus Ministry of Health moh.gov.cy +357 1420
Czech Republic Ministry of Health mzcr.cz +420 724 810 106;

+420 725 191 367

Denmark Danish Health Authority sst.dk +45 72 22 74 59
Estonia Ministry of Social Affairs koroonaviirus.ee  +372 634 6630; 1220*, 1247*
Finland Finnish institute for health and welfare thl.fi +358 295 535 535
France Government of the French Republic gouvernement.fr +33 800 130 000
Germany Federal Ministry of Health bundesgesundheitsministerium.de +49 30 346 465 100
Greece National Public Health Institute of Greece eody.gov.gr/ +30 210 521 2054
Hungary Hungarian Government koronavirus.gov.hu +36 6 80 277 455;

+36 6 80 277 456

Iceland Directorate of Health landlaeknir.is +354 544 4113, 1700
Ireland Health Service Executive hse.ie +353 1850 24 1850*
Italy Ministry of Health salute.gov.it +39 1500
Latvia Centre for the Prevention and Control of Diseases spkc.gov.lv +371 67387661
Liechtenstein Government of Liechtenstein regierung.li/coronavirus +423 230 30 30
Lithuania Ministry of Health sam.lrv.lt +370 8 618 79984
Luxembourg Ministry of Health msan.gouvernement.lu +352 8002 8080
Malta Government of Malta deputyprimeminister.gov.mt +356 21324086
Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment rivm.nl +31 800-1351
Norway Norwegian Institute of Public Health fhi.no +47 815 55 015
Poland Government of Poland gov.pl (PL) +48 800 190 590
gov.pl (EN)
Portugal Ministry of Health dgs.pt/corona-virus +351 808 24 24 24
Romania Ministry of Health ms.ro +40 800 800 358
Slovakia Public Health Authority of the Slovak Republic uvzsr.sk +421 917 222 682
Slovenia Government of Slovenia gov.si +386 31 646 617; 080 1404*
Spain Government of Spain mscbs.gob.es Regional numbers are found here
Sweden Public Health Agency of Sweden folkhalsomyndigheten.se +46 113 13
Switzerland Federal Office of Public Health bag.admin.ch/novel-cov +41 58 463 00 00
UK Government of UK gov.uk 111* (dialled from UK)
PROTECT

How can you protect yourself and others?

In the first instance, it is advisable to protect yourself and others by following the below hygiene and infection control guidelines. If you live with those you care for and you think you’ve been in close contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus, call your national helpline for advice and tell them that you are a carer living with the person/people you look after.

Having said that, it is crucial not to overload care services at a time when resources are already stretched so, please only contact health professionals when appropriate, i.e. when you or the person you are caring for is experiencing serious and unambiguous symptoms.

If you were planning to go away, see the latest advice on your country’s dedicated website’s.

If you do not live with those you care for, we suggest you keep in regular contact over the phone, through email or through video calls. Families may want to think about spending time together in a different way – for example, by setting up a group chat or playing online games together. If online communication isn’t possible, never underestimate the value of a regular phone call to offer social contact and support. If necessary, make plans for alternative face-to-face care for the person you care for, for example by calling on trusted neighbours, friends or family members.

 

Hygiene and infection control guidelines

  • Clean your hands often. Wash your hands with soap and water or, if not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:
    • Before eating, after using the toilet;
    • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing;
    • After having been in public places;
    • After having touched surfaces in public places;
    • After having touched other people.
  • Avoid contact with sick people, in particular those with a cough.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose and eyes.
  • Avoid meetings, events and other social gatherings in areas with ongoing community transmission.
  • Practice social distancing if COVID-19 is spreading in your community:
    • Avoid crowds, especially in confined and poorly ventilated spaces.
    • Do your grocery shopping at off-peak hours.
    • Avoid using public transport during rush hours.
    • Exercise outdoors instead of indoor settings.
  • If you develop cough, once COVID-19 is spreading in your community, use medical facemasks. This will protect those around you from getting infected.

 

Maintaining good mental health during COVID-19

Older adults, especially in isolation and those with cognitive decline/dementia, may become more anxious, angry, stressed, agitated, and withdrawn during the outbreak/while in quarantine.

In order to prevent these negative effects, informal carers should seek to:

  • Provide practical and emotional support through informal networks (families) and health professionals.
  • Share simple facts about what is going on and give clear information about how to reduce risk of infection in words older people with/without cognitive impairment can understand. Repeat the information whenever necessary. Instructions need to be communicated in a clear, concise, respectful and patient way. It may also be helpful for information to be displayed in writing or pictures. Engage their family and other support networks in providing information and helping them practice prevention measures (e.g. handwashing etc.)
  • If you have an underlying health condition, make sure to have access to any medications that you are currently using. Activate your social contacts to provide you with assistance, if needed.
  • Be prepared and know in advance where and how to get practical help if needed, like calling a Taxi, having food delivered and requesting medical care. Make sure you have up to 2 weeks of all your regular medicines that you may require.
  • Learn simple daily physical exercises to perform at home, in quarantine or isolation to maintain mobility and reduce boredom.
  • Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible or help create new ones in a new environment, including regular exercising, cleaning, daily chores, singing, painting or other activities. Help others, through peer support, neighbour checking, and childcare for medical personnel restricted in hospitals fighting against COVID-19 when safe to do so. in accordance with previous ones. Keep regular contact with loved ones (e.g. via phone or other accesses).

 

If you are in isolation

  • Stay connected and maintain your social networks. Even when isolated, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines or create new routines. If health authorities have recommended limiting your physical social contact to contain the outbreak, you can stay connected via e-mail, social media, video conference and telephone.
  • During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food. Keep things in perspective. Public health agencies and experts in all countries are working on the outbreak to ensure the availability of the best care to those affected.
  • A near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel anxious or distressed. Seek information updates and practical guidance at specific times during the day from health professionals and WHO website and avoid listening to or following rumours that make you feel uncomfortable.
PREPARE

Planning for emergencies

When you care for someone, life cannot simply be put on hold when the person you are looking after relies on you for vital help and support. As a carer you therefore need to know that if an emergency happens, replacement care will get sorted out speedily and efficiently. For many, this will involve contacting a family member, friend or neighbour who is willing to cover in an emergency.

We advise all carers to create an emergency plan – for you and all those you look after. Having a plan in place can help ease your worries if you are not able to care for those you look after at any point in the future. For example, you can ensure key information is made readily available for professionals; draw on networks of community and family support; and explore what technology can be used to support someone you look after when you can’t be in the same place at the same time. It is also a good idea to let your GP or medical professional know that you are a carer.

In order to create an emergency plan that fits your needs, you will need to consider:

  • Details of the name and address and any other contact details of the person you look after;
  • Who you and the person you look after would like to be contacted in an emergency – this might include friends, family or professionals;
  • Details of any medication the person you look after is taking;
  • Details of any ongoing treatment they need.

Think about whether there are alternative ways of getting shopping to the person/people you care for. You could sign up to a repeat prescription delivery service if the person you care for is reliant on regular prescription medication.

Our colleagues from Family Carers Ireland have developed a useful booklet to help carers think about who could offer support, and what that person would need to know, in the event the primary carer is unable to provide care due to an emergency (https://familycarers.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/EMERGENCY-CARE-PLAN_Family-Carers-Ireland-REVISED.pdf)

 

How technology can help

If someone you’re caring for lives at a distance, it’s important to consider how technology can help you keep in touch and alert you to any problems to give you both peace of mind.

You may find it valuable to explore Facetime or Skype as a way to talk face to face, though at a distance. There are apps and devices that are specifically designed with carers’ needs in mind such as Jointly, a mobile and online app that enables you to make communicating and coordinating care among friends and family for the person you’re looking after, easier.

There is also technology that can help with particular tasks, in case you can’t be around, such as managing taking medication.

 

What to do if you have a chronic disease?

  • Educate yourself on COVID-19 from trusted
  • Refill your prescription medicines or consider using a mail-order for your medications.
  • Have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (e.g. tissues, thermometer) to treat fever.
  • As much as feasible, keep physically active to ensure good physical condition.
  • Have enough groceries and household items, approximately 2-4 weeks. Prepare gradually and avoid panic buying.
  • Activate your social network. Contact family, friends, neighbours or community health care workers in advance and make joint plans on what to do when COVID-19 is spreading in your community or if you become ill.
  • Follow instructions from national authorities on how to prepare for emergencies.
  • Continue to practice general hygiene.

 

What do you do if you fall ill?

For people with mild symptoms of COVID-19, hospitalisation may not be necessary. Instead, healthcare providers may recommend isolation at home, to limit further spread of the virus. Isolation at home, self-isolation or home isolation means remaining at home or in a designated setting, in a single, dedicated, adequately ventilated room and preferably using a dedicated toilet. This measure can be recommended for people while showing symptoms or for a certain period of time.

 

While in home isolation, observe the following rules:

  • Do not allow visitors.
  • Only household members who are caring for the person suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19 should stay at home.
  • Separate yourself from other people in the household.
  • Use facemasks, if you have one, when in the same room with other people, to protect them.
  • Stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened.
  • If a dedicated toilet is not available, the isolated person should clean the toilet thoroughly after each use.
  • Use separate towels, eating utensils, drinking glasses, bedding or any other household item commonly shared in the family setting.
  • Activate your support system: ask friends, neighbours or community health care workers for help to run essential errands, e.g. grocery and medicine shopping.
  • Avoid direct contact when interacting with them, for example, by arranging groceries to be dropped at the door.
  • Wash hands directly before and after any interaction with others.
  • Follow the advice of your healthcare provider and call them if your condition worsens.

 

Care workers and other home help

If you have paid care workers, cleaners or other helpers coming into the home of the person you care for:

  • Ensure that they are following stringent hygiene and infection control measures. If they are employed through an agency and you have any doubts, contact the agency to ask them about what protective measures they are taking.
  • Talk to the person you care for about the hygiene and infection control measures they should expect someone coming into their home to follow. They should not be afraid to insist that these are followed.
  • If possible, ensure soap is made readily available and towels are frequently changed.
  • As well as following the steps above, if they are employed by an agency:
    • speak to the agency about their contingency plans and how they plan to respond if any of their staff are affected;
    • and if the care worker or other helper shows symptoms of coronavirus, do inform the agency. They will need to carry out a risk assessment and take steps to protect staff, their families and other clients from the virus. The agency should work with you to ensure that the person you care for is also safe.
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