Long COVID is a recently coined term for the longer-term effects of contracting COVID-19. According to the British Heart Foundation, older people and women have a greater risk of developing it. It also affected people with five or more long COVID symptoms in the first week of contracting COVID-19 more often. Caring for someone with long COVID is not straightforward because not much is known about the condition yet.
What are long COVID symptoms?
Long COVID can linger for weeks or even months after the initial COVID-19 illness has disappeared. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence NICE defines it as lasting for more than 12 weeks.
Symptoms of Long COVID are:
- Feeling of breathlessness
- Heart palpitations or chest pain
- Joint or muscle pain
- Numbness or ‘pins and needles’
- ‘Brain fog’
- Loss or change to sense of smell
If someone experiences chest pain, it is really important to work out the cause ASAP. Seek emergency medical help because there could be a different problem with the heart or another serious condition.
How do I care for someone with long COVID?
If you or someone else has got long COVID, there are several ways to help. Rest is very important as the body needs to recover. Find a quiet place where you can rest and sleep uninterrupted. If the person feels up to some activity, choose the best time of day when they feel least tired. Break activities down into short chunks of time and watch for signs of fatigue because long COVID can make people very tired without much warning.
Make sure the person with long COVID symptoms eats and drinks regularly, even if they don’t feel like having much. Choose food that is tempting and easy to eat and digest. Be patient because recovery could take a while. Some days will be worse than others so try to keep the mood positive. Ask for medical advice if you are worried, for instance if the person becomes worse suddenly or complains of new symptoms.
More advice for caring for someone with long COVID
Keep in touch with other people because you may feel lonely while you or your patient recover. You may need to self-isolate. If so, you should arrange to meet people online, text or call. Keep a daily routine going so that the person with long COVID doesn’t lose track of time. If your memory is affected, make notes to help you remember things or to record symptoms. Cut down on distractions and arrange help when it is needed. This could be someone to cover work or to collect children from school.
If you are caring for someone with long COVID, gentle exercises like yoga or tai chi can help them keep flexible and reduce joint or muscle pain. Always check with a doctor before starting an exercise regime. Get help from the NHS and your GP and check online for latest guidelines and advice. Call 999 if long COVID symptoms get worse or the person affected develops chest pain or cannot breathe.
Long COVID advice for residential care workers
If you discover long COVID in your residential care setting, seek medical advice immediately. The person will need to see a doctor to rule out any other conditions. Ensure they are able to recover in a quiet, isolated area. Keep the person’s family updated and liaise with their doctor regarding medications and treatment plans because they will need to know what medications are being given and how the person is reacting and recovering. Encourage the person to eat and drink regularly and not to try to do too much too soon.
Check online for the latest advice for visitors to make sure that your care home is compliant. Follow other care home’s infection control procedures carefully. Keep physical contact to a minimum to avoid transmission. Watch out for signs that the resident is getting tired during a visit, and ask the visitors to leave if necessary. Visits are a key part of care home life. Care home staff should encourage and enable them as much as possible, especially when a resident is concerned about their health and needs extra emotional support.
Working safely in a care home with long COVID
Most care home workers will be well experienced by now about working in an environment affected by COVID. Long COVID patients tend to present with similar symptoms (see above) but for longer. PPE and full hygiene precautions should be taken when looking after them. Follow the procedures laid out for your care home for infectious diseases. Wash your hands frequently and change face masks, aprons etc between each patient being cared for. Plan ahead to ensure that you have enough beds, medication and staff to cope with multiple patients with long COVID. Ensure that all sleeping and public areas are cleaned frequently, with thorough deep cleans included.