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Many people think of caregivers as professionals who are employed to take care of others. But in reality, a caregiver is anyone who regularly helps someone else — often without pay.

Who is a caregiver?

Today’s caregivers are predominantly family members. Partners, spouses, adult children, parents or other relatives are the most common caregivers. In fact, 37 percent of those providing care are providing it to a parent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But friends and neighbors — or others concerned about the well-being of an older person — may qualify as caregivers as well.

The caregiver often is someone who has a job and other commitments but makes time to help the individual in need. Regardless of the relationship between the person providing care and the person receiving care, a caregiver is often untrained to do the work they do as a caregiver.

Tasks completed by caregivers

At first, the tasks completed may be quick and relatively small: buying groceries, providing companionship, offering rides or helping with home maintenance. But other more complex tasks may arise over time. These include but are not limited to:

    • Bathing, dressing, offering medication
    • Mobility assistance
    • Wound, IV or other medical care
    • Arranging medical care, sitting in during appointments, taking notes
    • Managing bills, organizing finances and overseeing legal matters
    • Being on call 24/7 for any type of assistance

Caregivers should make a list of the assistance they provide. It can help them understand how to budget time, finances and emotional resources, as well as provide a foundation for others who may be able to help.

How caregiving sneaks up

Support roles like those provided by a caregiver often start out small. Helping Mom clean the fridge every month slowly grows into weekly shopping trips to stock it. Mowing the lawn for a neighbor turns into year-round yard maintenance. By the time a caregiver realizes that errands and assistance are a regular thing, they are already immersed in the work of caregiving.

How crisis creates a caregiver

Sometimes, the role of caregiver comes on quickly, such as when a friend or family member experiences a debilitating event such as a broken hip or stroke.

No matter the crisis that occurs, when a caregiver is catapulted into the work of caregiving, his or her life changes.

Why is it difficult to accept the title?

For some, taking the title of caregiver may feel burdensome. Others may worry it implies a stripping away of their loved one’s independence or could alter their relationship.

It’s important to remember that caregiving is meaningful work — and that caregivers also need help and support.

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