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Caregiver: What Does it Mean? Who is a Caregiver?

Verified by Kiera Powell, R.N. and written by Chad Birt on Mon Sep 20 2021.
Medically Verified

What makes someone a caregiver? Caring for others is something that all humans do. It feels good to do nice things for those we love, and research shows it can encourage personal growth and make life more meaningful. Still, doing someone a favor isn’t the same as providing care. So, what do a caregiver’s responsibilities entail?

What is a caregiver?

The word “caregiver” refers to anyone who provides some type of assistance to a person in need. That might mean helping with daily tasks like bathing, eating, and using the toilet, or keeping the pantry and medicine cabinet stocked by picking up groceries and prescription medication.

Some caregivers have medical training and specific expertise; others are friends or family members who enter the role due to a chronic illness or disability. In the most basic terms, caregivers provide some type of support or aid.

Are there different types of caregivers?

There are several different types of caregivers, including:

Family caregivers.

A family caregiver is a spouse, child, neighbor, or friend who provides some type of at-home care. Most family caregivers aren’t paid and fall into the role of a caregiver due to necessity. A 2020 report by Caregiving.org found that about 53 million Americans are family caregivers.

Professional Caregivers.

Professional Caregivers are people who receive special training to care for others. Some have a medical background, others don’t. Either way, a Professional Caregiver can provide someone with assistance, companionship, and support. If you live far away from your senior, hiring a Professional Caregiver can provide peace of mind.

There are also dedicated facilities that provide certain types of specialized care, including:

Assisted living facilities.

Assisted living provides regular supervision and medical care but in a welcoming, community-like environment. These facilities are especially beneficial for people with neurodegenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease or physical limitations that require assistance with daily tasks like eating, grooming, and using the toilet.

Skilled nursing facilities.

Wheelchair users and those who are bed-restricted often need help with activities of daily living (ADLs). Skilled nursing facilities provide advanced care for people who require round-the-clock support. They’re staffed with medical experts, including physical and occupational therapists, licensed nurses, and pathologists.

What are the responsibilities of a caregiver?

The responsibilities of caregivers vary and depend on your loved one’s age, medical history, and individual needs. That said, caregiving responsibilities fall into several distinct categories—transportation, self-care, medication management, health care, and advocacy.

Transportation.

Many older individuals have poor vision or hearing, making it difficult (and in some cases unsafe) to drive. Caretakers often play the role of chauffeur, driving their loved ones to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, the hair salon, and other routine appointments.

Self-care.

People with underlying health problems like arthritis, osteoporosis, and certain neurodegenerative conditions may find it difficult to bathe, use the toilet, eat, or get dressed. As a caregiver, you might be tasked with helping your loved one change, take a shower, or eat meals.

Medication management.

More than 66% of American adults take at least one type of prescription medication. As a caretaker, you might be tasked with making sure your loved one adheres to their doctor’s prescribed schedule. That means setting out the medication at specific times each day and (if they take more than one type of medicine) making sure they don’t negatively interact with one another.

Health care.

Often, people who require care also have underlying health problems. As a caretaker, it’s your job to ensure your loved one makes it to each of their appointments as scheduled. That same rule applies to physical and occupational therapy, laboratory tests, preventive screenings, and more.

Advocacy.

As a caretaker, you play the important role of advocate. It might be uncomfortable at first, but it’s necessary to speak up, ask questions, and communicate. That’s particularly true if you have questions about medication management or other day-to-day tasks that might affect your loved one’s health and well-being.

Financial management.

Talking with your loved one about their finances can be uncomfortable, but it’s absolutely necessary. Many seniors are retired and living on a fixed income. Knowing how much money is in the bank and how to allocate it can relieve a lot of stress.

If the person you care for is unable to handle finances on their own, get access to important documents like their mortgage, insurance policies, pension records, bank statements, and will. Information like this makes it easy to stay on top of bills and other financial commitments.

Shopping.

Many people who require care are unable to drive on their own. As a caretaker, you might be tasked with grocery shopping, refilling prescriptions at the pharmacy, or picking up personal hygiene products like diapers, shampoo, or toothpaste. 

FAQ – What is a caregiver?

Below, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about caregivers.

1. What is the importance of caregiving to the elderly?

Researchers estimate that about 18 million Americans aged 65 and older require at least some assistance with regular daily activities. Caregiving, whether it’s provided by a family member or a professional, allows the elderly (and others with disabilities) to maintain their independence and live happier, more fulfilling lives.

2. Is a spouse considered a caregiver?

Yes. A spouse can be a caregiver. If you provide assistance to your husband or wife, whether that’s driving them to their doctor’s appointments or managing their finances, you’re considered a caregiver. There are even programs that allow family members to receive compensation for their work. Click here to learn more.

3. Can family members be caregivers?

Yes, a study by AARP found that 65 million Americans (about 29% of the population) care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aging family member and that number continues to grow. Not all family caregivers receive compensation for their work, but some do. There are even some types of long-term care insurance that pay family caregivers.

4. What is the best way to plan family caregiving?

The best way to develop a family care plan is to start now. That rule applies, even if all of your loved ones are currently healthy. It can be challenging to talk about the future, especially when it comes to topics like illness or death, but it’s important to understand your loved one’s wishes, especially when it comes to medical care and finances.

If you notice that someone in your life struggles with daily activities like grooming, running errands, or maintaining their personal hygiene, it may be time to consider hiring a professional caregiver to assist.

5. What is a caregiver parent?

A caregiver parent is a mother or father who provides care services for an ailing child. For a wheelchair user, that might mean assistance getting in and out of bed, changing, and navigating the home. For a child with behavioral or mental health problems, it might mean medication management and routine trips to counseling appointments.

6. What is respite care?

Respite care provides temporary care for a loved one, so you (their regular caretaker) can take a vacation or make time for yourself. A week or two of respite care here or there is an effective way to recharge your batteries and prevent burnout. 

At Carewell, it’s our mission to provide comprehensive caregiver support and caregiver resources to the selfless heroes who take care of their friends and family members.

We encourage you to take advantage of our ‘New Caregiver” section and if you have any questions, contact our friendly Care Team by calling (855) 855-1666 or sending a message to support@carewell.com.

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Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.