Getting your Home Care safely during COVID-19

Are you concerned about continuing your Home Care during this time? There have been reports of people cancelling carers and home care services out of fear of contracting the virus.
It’s not surprising at such a scary time with a lot of advice and directions changing daily. It seems every time we tune in to the news, there have been more cases announced in Australia and more conflicting advice given.

Some of the best advice is to try to stay as healthy as possible during this time and cancelling your home care service may just work against that.

We spoke to Absolute Care and Health, providers of home care, to see how best to use your Home Care Package and what precautions providers are taking to ensure everyone is as safe as possible.

Who is most at risk?

Older people (60+ years of age, or 50+ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) are more susceptible to getting sick with COVID-19 (coronavirus). The risk of serious illness, and in some reported cases death, increases with age, particularly those who have chronic illnesses or a weakened immune system.

If you start to feel unwell, phone the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 or your GP who will be able to provide you with further advice. Older people aged 70+ (or 50+ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) or people with chronic conditions are able to seek medical support from their GPs through bulk-billed telehealth (video link) and telephone services.

How is the coronavirus spread?

The virus can spread from person to person through:

  • close contact with an infectious person (including in the 24 hours before they started showing symptoms)
  • contact with droplets from an infected person coughing or sneezing
  • touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have droplets on them from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face.

Limiting contact

Stay at home The latest advice from Prime Minister Scott Morrison says while it is "not a compulsion" the government has provided "strong advice" that Australians aged 70 and over should stay at home and self-isolate "for their own protection" as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Now is the time to make beneficial use of your carer- get them to go to the shops for groceries, arrange to pick up medications etc. Many Australian have unspent funds, in their Home Care Packages; now is the time to use that to run essential services.

Some Home Care providers are organising group shopping runs for their clients. This limits possible exposure, gets you your groceries and all at a cheaper carer rate as they are shopping for multiple people. Have a chat to your Home Care provider to see what they are putting in place.

Limiting carer contact As mentioned, now is not the time to try to go without personal care assistance and daily living tasks, but you can think about ceasing gardening and in some cases cleaning for now as a precaution. Maintaining your health is of upmost importance at this time, so have a chat to your provider for more ideas on limiting contact while staying safe and healthy.

Essential transport Unless absolutely necessary, stay away from public transport. If you find that it is essential that you need to be in a car with someone i.e. carer, uber etc try to maintain as much distance as possible. Sitting in the diagonal back seat with windows open is an option. Bring hand sanitiser and wash your hands as soon as possible.

What about my medications? As well as asking your carer to handle any medication pickups, Australia Post has also announced the launch of its Pharmacy Home Delivery Service. Pharmacies around the country can offer free delivery on prescriptions to their customers, call yours for details.
People using the service will receive medication and other essential supplies under 500g through Australia Post's Express Post network, once a month.

The Australian Government is implementing electronic prescribing (ePrescribing) to help protect people most at risk. This will allow a doctor to prepare an electronic prescription that patients will then be able to electronically share with their pharmacy, where the pharmacy is able to support the home delivery of medicines.

Pharmacists can supply prescription medications without a prescription for one month in emergency circumstances except for Schedule 8 medicines. Doctors prescribing Schedule 8 medicines for non-drug dependent patients will not be required to apply for a Schedule 8 treatment permit for the next six months, but instead check SafeScript.

Advice on the use of ibuprofen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories There have been some concerns internationally that use of ibuprofen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, during a COVID-19 infection may lead to an increased risk of complications or death.

At this time, there is insufficient high-quality evidence currently available to recommend ceasing use. Further advice will be provided as further evidence becomes available. (Aust dept Health).

Infection control

Remember, nobody wants to get sick, so your carers and Home Care provider are doing their upmost to protect you and themselves from the virus. If you are concerned, give them a call to see exactly what protective equipment the carers are being given and how they are working to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Wash your hands As well as washing your own hands frequently, ask your carer to wash their hands, in front of you with soap and hot water, when they get to your house and between tasks.

Have they been supplied paper towels to dry their hands, along with sanitiser and gloves? It is a good idea to add paper towel to your own shopping list, for hand washing, in the event supplies are short.

Currently, due to shortages, it is advised that health workers only wear masks if caring for someone who has been confirmed with or awaiting results of a COVID-19 test (don’t worry they won’t be working if they are currently awaiting results of their own test). Do not be concerned if your carer is not wearing a mask if both of you are healthy.

If you are sick, TELL your provider. Don’t be worried that they won’t come, it will ensure they equip your carer with the correct protective equipment such as masks, gloves etc and they will still be able to assist you.

Groceries Ask your carer to wipe down any packaging, groceries and parcels that come into your house. It is still up for debate as to how long the virus can live on objects and materials so it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of extra cleaning during this time.

  • Keep one half of the table or bench for cleaned groceries and the other half for ones just in from the shop.
  • Wipe down each item before placing on the “cleaned” half of the table with a disinfectant.
  • Wipe down or spray all plastic items and packages

Handling food packaging

  • Washing hands before handling
  • Hold wrapper and keep food free of contact while placing on a plate from home
  • Microwave or heat food whenever possible

Maintaining distance in a car
Current advice is to stay home and avoid as much contact as possible but if you find yourself having to be in the car with your carer or taking a taxi/ uber, try to maintain as much distance as possible. Sitting in the diagonal back seat, from the driver, with windows open is an option. Bring hand sanitiser and wash your hands as soon as possible.

Getting some fresh air
Part of keeping healthy is maintaining movement, fresh air and not feeling like you are cooped up in your house for an undetermined amount of time.
Can you go for a walk around the block without coming into contact with anyone? If not, can you set yourself up in a nice spot in your front or back yard, balcony or porch?

If you are unable to move around as easily these days and find yourself inside more often than not, opening all curtains and some windows will help with fresh circulating air and bright natural light to really lift your spirits. Can you position a nice comfortable chair near one of these windows giving you a view out to your garden or onto the street?

If you are not yet familiar with YouTube, ask you carer to help you search for some relaxing movement videos. The longer self-isolation and lock downs persist, the more creative people are getting and you will find all sorts of free exercise videos for all levels online.

Stress The outbreak of COVID-19 is a stressful time for everyone.

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and half of what you are reading is unfounded.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Aside from the phone, there are many ways to get in touch now- ask your carer about setting you up with one of these video call services, or click below for how:
  • Just because museums and galleries closed for now, doesn’t mean art is dead. Now you can watch live symphonies, do a virtual tour of a gallery or even watch feeding time at the zoo!

COVID-19 and people with Dementia for carers and family

For people living with dementia or some form of cognitive impairment, the ability to follow instruction or to alert others about potential symptoms may be a challenge. This is especially so where there is a limited capacity to communicate verbally or express pain and discomfort. In this situation, observation by someone who knows the person with dementia may assist in identifying changes in their health.

If you are regularly in contact with a person living with dementia, maintaining that routine as much as possible is important. If events or activities are cancelled try to provide alternative engagement within the home. There are many activity ideas on Dementia Australia’s website, available here

I need a Home Care assessment; are they still being conducted?

Older Australians can access short term home support services (such as meals or personal care) in an emergency without having had an aged care assessment.
Assessments can also be conducted using telehealth (video link) rather than face-to-face where appropriate. Speak with a home care provider about these measures.

Sources for reliable information:

A public information hotline is provided by Health Direct – 1800 675 398.