5 Caregiving Tools to Help Sniff Out an Infection

Every caregiver has a list of essential items that they keep on hand, and close by, for quick access in a pinch.

My list isn’t long, but they all serve a special purpose – mostly to put my mind at ease – but also sometimes to save my darling’s life, or at least avoid a hospitalization.

Over the last (almost) 12 years, I’ve learned that those who live with neurological conditions may be at higher risk for certain other illnesses because of their primary illness – whether it’s MS, Parkinson’s, or dementia-related conditions like Alzheimer’s, others too.

My darling’s primary care physician helped educate me, that in general, because of some of the medications he takes, infections may be more common. But here’s the rub – how do you tell a bad day from a day with an infection brewing? Another delight of neurologic conditions is that those living with these conditions may not present in the same way that someone without a neurological condition presents.

What does this mean? It means that someone with a neurological condition may not get a fever if they have an infection. Or that if they have pneumonia, or a chest infection, they may not present with a cough.

Instead, they may present with exacerbated symptoms that they already have – like more difficulty walking. Or problems with balance or gait. Fatigue may be at an all time high. The list goes on. It’s the weird stuff that we know isn’t right – and it gives us caregivers an icky feeling in our gut.

Four of the handy dandy essential caregiving tools that I keep close by include:

  • Digital Thermometer – while fever doesn’t usually present with my darling, even the slightest increase from his baseline temperature could mean that something is brewing.
  • Pulse Oximeter – this may sound fancy, but it’s a useful tool if your darling is prone to chest infections/pneumonia. I was informed that an oxygen reading of 95 or less could mean an infection and to call the doctor with that information for further instruction.
  • Blood Pressure Monitor – an increase or decrease in blood pressure could also mean infection. In fact, a major decrease in blood pressure could mean that your person is in septic shock – a life-threatening condition that needs immediate attention. And septic shock is increasingly more common, and especially in those whose immune system is weak. I like to check blood pressure whenever I’m thinking an infection is brewing.
  • Bacitracin Zinc Ointment & Gauze – did you know that those medications that make your loved one prone to infections like urinary tract infections and pneumonia may also make your loved one prone to skin infections? We take wound care very seriously, bathing with dial “gold bar” – it’s yellow – soap, and keeping track of any areas on the skin that may need attention. One of the most ghastly things to have to deal with is MRSA – antibiotic resistant skin infection. It could take months for a tiny spot to heal completely. As soon as I see a break in skin, even if it’s just an ingrown hair, I’m on it with the Bacitracin and gauze.

The last item on my list has nothing to do with infections, but everything to do with peace of mind:

  • Home monitoring system – I find that having a camera in our home that allows me to peek in when I need to gives me an immense sense of security. If your situation is anything like mine, we have several therapists and home health aides that are in and out of the house throughout the day. While I trust the regulars – they are like family – sometimes a temp comes. I like being able to see what they are doing with my darling – and I like that they know I’ll be peeking in.

Ninety percent of the time, all of these things serve as a means to quell the ickiness in my belly. That’s where I carry all of my stress. But when that 10 percent of the time comes around, I sure am glad to have these tools handy. They have each helped me get to the bottom of things that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

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Wife, mother, writer, and caregiver. If you're here for support and caregiving life hacks, you've come to the right place.

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