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What Is a Caregiver?

Summary: A caregiver is responsible for the health and well-being of someone who may not be able to care for themselves. Caregiving for the elderly means helping them complete activities of daily living (ADLs), such as cooking and much more. There are no requirements for caregiving for a loved one, however, there are several skills every senior caregiver should be aware of. Estimated Read Time: 7 mins

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Table of Contents:

  1. What Does a Caregiver Do?
  2. What Makes a Good Caregiver?
  3. What Is the Difference Between a Caregiver and a Caretaker?
  4. What Is Required To Be a Caregiver?

A caregiver is responsible for ensuring the health and well-being of an individual who may not be able to care for themselves. A caregiver for the elderly is the first line of support for their loved ones facing debilitating medical issues. However, unlike professional caregivers, family caregivers often do not receive compensation for their efforts.

Studies show that 17% of children will become a caregiver for a family member at some point in their lives, and the older they are, the more likely this will occur. Additionally, caregiving for the elderly is often the responsibility of spouses and partners, with 29% of adults aged 45 to 64 also performing these services.

Both long-term and short-term elderly caregivers exist, depending on the needs of the care recipient. To meet the needs of your loved one, it is essential to understand the different functions caregivers will undertake to ensure a suitable quality of life for their patients.

What Does a Caregiver Do?

For many, caregiving for the elderly means helping loved ones complete activities of daily living (ADLs). Depending on your loved one, the specific activities of the caregiver will vary. For example, you may not need to cook for your loved one, but you may need to run errands instead. Here are some common examples of what elderly caregivers do:

  • Cleaning around the house and other routine maintenance.
  • Setting up appointments.
  • Cooking for and feeding your loved one.
  • Helping with grooming, bathing, using the restroom, and other hygiene-related activities.
  • Running errands around town, such as grocery shopping.
  • Helping make financial arrangements and payments.
  • Assisting in healthcare decisions, making appointments, managing medication, choosing healthcare coverage, etc.
  • Ensuring that both mental and physical exercise is taking place.
  • Setting up and maintaining social activities and hobbies of interest.

It’s also worth noting that there are many different types of caregivers, and the need is not exclusive to older adults. People of any age may require help with these services due to various health issues.

What Makes a Good Caregiver?

Being a good caregiver takes many different qualifies, including:

  • The willingness to sacrifice
  • Empathizing for your patient
  • Being reliable, consistent, and flexible
  • Organizational skills
  • Basic healthcare skills like CPR and those specifically related to your patient’s needs
  • Housekeeping skills

You don’t need to know everything all at once but understanding some skills off the bat is important. Knowing when and how to delegate tasks that you may not necessarily be as fit for is also important to recognize. Additional help is available, and accessing this help is an important step to better help your loved one.

“A good caregiver, paid or unpaid, will assist with the activities of daily living for their patient and is going to need to have a variety of skills. The top skills a caregiver would need are being able to collaborate and work together with the person they are caring for. Basic first aid, CPR training, and being attentive to the physical and mental needs of their patients are also essential skills,” said Brittany Maluyo, BSN, RN from the Memorial Hermann Health System in Texas.

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While the services a caregiver provides for their patient can vary, each action does the same thing: helps them live a better life. This can be through assisting with healthcare, finances, or any of the previously mentioned functions. All in all, a good caregiver for seniors is there for whatever is needed, even if it means putting their own needs on the back burner.

What Is the Difference Between a Caregiver and a Caretaker?

The qualities of a caregiver may be similar to those of a caretaker. However, the key differences between the two are empathy and emotional investment. While caregivers are usually much more invested in and connected to their patients, caretakers are not. Caretakers are there to help with maintenance tasks, upkeep, and daily tasks.

What Is Required To Be a Caregiver?

If you’re looking to get started, there are several baseline skills every senior caregiver should be aware of. Which includes the following:

  • Being in shape is an overlooked skill that proves critical for elderly caregivers. Keeping on top of your own exercise and diet is a surefire way to be prepared for the physical and mental hurdles you’ll face as you care for your loved ones.
  • CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is a life-saving skill that can help not only your patient but anyone during an emergency until professionals can arrive. Notably, seniors are less likely to survive CPR. Depending on health conditions and age, this can be fewer than 2%. Knowing when and how to provide this technique through formal training is critical.
  • Cleanliness and organization helps your patient maintain proper hygiene, make their appointments, and sustains a higher quality of life.
  • Communication is key in any endeavor. Whether it’s advocating for your loved one with their healthcare team or speaking with your elderly patient, you’re going to need to know how to communicate properly for fewer issues.
  • Compassion and empathy are two of the most important characteristics of a caregiver. It affects everything from how you speak, act, and feel. Putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes can help you during the difficult times to take a breath and provide the care they deserve.
  • First aid skills help your patient when health issues arise. This can be things such as treating a burn, setting a split, properly stopping them from bleeding, applying a suture or stitch, and even supporting them after a sprain or strain. Always keeping a first aid kit ready is important as they are essential supplies for a caregiver, but only apply skills you’ve received training on.
  • Flexibility and patience are necessary as caregiving for the elderly is a major change for households. You’ll need to change your lifestyle to adjust to your responsibilities and have patience when things aren’t going as quickly as you’d wish they were.
  • Performing the Heimlich Maneuver is like CPR. It’s a lifesaving skill that is even more universal than simply caring for your patient. Seniors 65 years of age and older have a seven times higher risk of choking than kids under the age of four, further highlighting this important skill.
  • Observant caregivers are capable of helping mitigate health risks, find problems before they begin, and help end negative actions when they are in place. For example, you’ll want to pay attention to signs of abuse or concussions, notice the health habits of your loved one, and stay alert for side effects.
  • Problem-solving and time management are needed for multiple roles as a family caregiver. Having professional resources is important, but there are times when you’re going to have to make decisions for your patient and yourself. Keeping appointments and making decisions when problems arise are going to fall to you as needed by loved ones.

Being a caregiver requires a lot of different skills and responsibilities. It’s an ongoing journey that will require sacrifice and evolution on your part. But the result is a higher quality of life for your loved one and the peace of mind of knowing that when it was needed most, love and care were there to see them through.

There are many different types of caregivers and roles that can help your loved ones. As a caregiver yourself, it’s important to understand where you fit in and the others that are a part of the journey.

Keep reading to discover the different types of caregivers and how they can impact your family.


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  1. What You Should Know About Caring for Elderly Parents, UDS Foundation. Accessed November 2023.
  2. 5 facts about family caregivers, Pew Research Center. Accessed November 2023.
  3. For many, a 'natural death' may be preferable to enduring CPR, NPR. Accessed November 2023.
  4. Age-Related Changes to Eating and Swallowing Impact Frailty: Aspiration, Choking Risk, Modified Food Texture and Autonomy of Choice, NIH. Accessed November 2023.
  5. Basic First Aid Skills Everyone Should Learn, IMA. Accessed November 2023.
Kayla Hopkins

Kayla Hopkins

Content Editor
Kayla Hopkins is an accomplished writer and Medicare guru serving as the Editor of MedicareFAQ.com. Upon completing her Communications degree from Ohio University, Kayla dedicated her time to understanding the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare. With her extensive background as a Licensed Insurance Agent, she brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her writing.
Ashlee Zareczny

Ashlee Zareczny

Compliance Manager
Ashlee Zareczny is the Compliance Manager for MedicareFAQ. As a licensed Medicare agent in all 50 states, she is dedicated to educating those eligible for Medicare by providing the necessary resources and tools. Additionally, Ashlee trains new and tenured Medicare agents on CMS compliance guidelines. Ashlee is a Medicare expert who specializes in Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D education.


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