What is a caregiver?

This is a question that I kept encountering as I looked for articles on caregiving support all across the internet.  Every time I found such an article, my automatic response to the question was, “I already know what a caregiver is: it’s a person who does what I do to care for my husband!”  Then I quickly moved on to other more useful and practical topics on caregiving.  I was puzzled by the question, which in my mind had such an obvious answer.  And when I saw titles of the “Are you a caregiver?  What does a caregiver do?” variety, I dismissed them with quiet arrogance.  As it turns out, it was more a quiet ignorance on my part.

Meandering through The National Family Caregivers Association website, I came across NFCA Research Reports and Surveys .  The AARP Caregiver Identification Study [February 2001] states that 15% of caregivers surveyed did not consider themselves “caregivers” even though they provided caregiving help.  This figure translates to about 30 million caregivers not recognizing themselves as such!  I fell into this category!  It took me about 2 years to realize that I had become a caregiver when I began caring for my husband.  I had considered my efforts a wifely duty, not caregiving.  But in fact, I was a full-time caregiver!

So why identify caregivers?  Why all the articles defining a caregiver?

Many of us who automatically jump into the role of caregivers do so out of a sense of duty, respect, concern and love for our spouse, child, parent, relative or friend.  We do so as an extension of our current role, not as the beginning of a new role.  It is, in fact, the beginning of our role as a family caregiver.

Why does this matter?

It matters because once a person takes on the role of caregiver, he or she often becomes more assertive with the care of a loved one.  Gary Barg, Founder of CareGiver.com and keynote speaker at the Fearless Caregiver Conferences around the country, teaches caregivers “how to become a respected member of their loved one’s care team.”  Seeing yourself not only as a family member but as a caregiver usually provides the necessary determination and confidence to seek appropriate treatment for your caree.  You have become his or her representative and spokesperson, taking responsibility for his or her respectful and adequate care.

So what does a caregiver do?

In a nutshell, a family caregiver cares for someone who is ill, disabled or frail from aging.  This includes personal care, eating, helping with mobility, taking caree to medical appointments, administering medications or any other medical necessities; providing emotional support, companionship, diversions; running errands, keeping house, cooking, laundry, financial planning, taxes, dealing with insurance and anything else that the caree would be doing if he or she were healthy.

Well, are you a family caregiver?

If you are caring for someone, locally or long-distance, you are a caregiver!  And if you are a caregiver, you owe it to yourself to learn about & use the support that is available to you through government agencies, caregiving & disease organizations, or support groups online and in your area.


Identifying Family Caregivers

Who Are America’s Family Caregivers?

The National Family Caregivers Association