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Caring for a Parent with Shingles

Aug 4, 2017 by Nancy Hmieleski, RN, BSN Director of Nursing

If you’ve had chicken pox, you can get shingles. As you age, the chance of shingles increases. By the time a person is 85, they have a 50 percent chance of developing this often painful disease. Shingles is caused by the herpes zoster varicella virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. Once you’ve been infected, it lies within your system, dormant, until reactivation occurs.

What to Look for
If your parent begins to complain of a continuous and extreme pain with a burning or tingling sensation that is occurring across their back or waist—take a look. If you notice small bumps, even two to three days after the pain has begun, that later become fluid-filled blisters, there’s a good chance they have shingles. Other signs include chills, fever, nausea, headache and skin that is sensitive to the touch. Usually, after four to five weeks, the blister has broken open and a crust has formed which, by this time, will start to fall off. For some, the healing constitutes an end to the eruption. For others, the pain continues due to a complication called postherpetic neuralgia. It occurs in up to half of the individuals over the age of 59 who have had untreated shingles and can last from a few weeks to a few years. 

This is often the worst part of the shingles disease. The chronic pain can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia and weight loss. Just the pressure of the sheets over the affected body part can feel excruciating. If blisters have occurred near the eye, blindness may result.

How to Help

Some physicians recommend an antiviral medication, though it must be implemented as soon as possible to be effective. If you believe your parent may have contacted shingles, be sure to make an appointment with their primary health care provider immediately.  There are some actions you can take at home to help make your parent feel more comfortable:

  • Warm oatmeal baths have been shown to soothe the skin and decrease itching and pain. 
  • Calamine lotion, often use for poison oak or ivy, can help reduce the itching as well. 
  • Wear loose fitting clothing made from a natural material.
  • Apply cool washcloths to the blisters. Help your parent avoid stress and take part in activities that will take their mind off the pain. Distract your parent with crafts such as watercolor, ceramics or mosaics. Playing a board game or sharing a delicious salad with garlic bread are ways to distract your parent while providing them with good nutrition. 
  • As with most diseases, stress is not good for what ails your parent. It can be both an extender and a precursor to the pain of shingles. Walking will help decrease stress and increase their currently burdened immune system.

Home Care Provider

A home care provider can assist with the everyday activities of living. They can bring out the board games and jigsaw puzzles, providing a needed distraction. They can prepare healthy meals, provide transportation and make sure your loved one is remaining social and engaged despite their run-in with shingles.


If you or an elderly loved one are considering home care services in High Bridge, NJ, or the surrounding areas, call the caring professionals at Comfort Keepers of Flemington, NJ. Call today (908) 806-2220.

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