Caring for an ill person at home
The Minnesota Department of Health offers these basic guidelines for caring for a sick person in your home. Following these suggestions can protect you and other household members from getting sick.
Prevent the spread of infection
Cleaning your hands frequently is the best way to prevent spreading infection. This is especially important after touching the ill person or items in their room that have nose or mouth secretions, vomit, feces or urine on them.
- Clean your hands with liquid soap and water. (Bar soap can spread germs; if you only have bar soap, do not share the bar with the ill person.) OR
- Clean your hand with an alcohol-based hand rub if your hands do not have dirt or food on them.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth before you wash your hands. Viruses can enter your body through these body areas and make you sick.
Be sure the sick person drinks enough fluids
Preventing dehydration is the most important thing you can do for the sick person.
- Adults need at least 2 – 3 quarts of fluids per day. Young children need about 1 quart per day.
- Give clear liquids such as broth, juice (half-strength for children), tea, sports drinks, or oral rehydration formula. (To mix an oral rehydration formula mix these ingredients together: 4 cups water, ¼ teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons sugar. If desired, add lemon, lime or mint for flavor.)
- Limit caffeinated drinks to 1 - 3 cups per day because large amounts of caffeine can increase urine output.
- Give cool drinks if the ill person has a fever.
- The ill person may not want to or may be unable to take fluids — but you must help them. Give fluids – one drop at a time if necessary. Start with one teaspoon of fluid every five minutes. If they do not vomit after 30 minutes, give two teaspoons. Continue to double the volume every 30 minutes until they can take fluids on their own.
Know the signs of dehydration
- Dehydration can be deadly if not treated, so know the symptoms of dehydration:
- Flushed face
- Dry mouth
- Rapid and deep breathing
- Fast and/or weak pulse
- Sunken, tearless eyes
- Dry, warm skin
- Little or no urine output
- Dark-colored urine
- Dizziness made worse when standing
- Rapid increase in heartbeat upon rising to a sitting or standing position
- Cramping in the arms and legs
- Sleepiness or irritability
- Lack of elasticity of the skin (When the skin is pulled up, it takes longer than usual to go back to its normal position.)
- In infants, sunken fontanel ("soft spot" on top of head)
- Decreased alertness or change in consciousness.
Know when to call a health care provider
Watch for worsening illness and call a healthcare provider immediately if the ill person:
- Has difficulty breathing or chest pain
- Has gray/blue lips or skin.
- Has fever above 104º F (101º F for a child) that cannot be reduced.
- Has severe or persistent vomiting.
- Has a sign of dehydration.
- Has seizures or uncontrolled movements
- Is unable to move an arm or leg.
- Is confused or isn’t waking up.
- Improves and then symptoms return.
Last updated Nov. 10, 2011