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What really is a caregiver?

The word “caregiver” is simply defined. A “caregiver” is a giver of care. Someone who provides support, help, or aid to another who needs it. They care for a loved one, a friend, a family member, or another person when that person can’t take care of him or herself without some assistance. While doctors, nurses and other medical professionals tend to person’s medical needs, a caregiver tends to the patient’s daily needs to make their lives better and to keep them safe.

The traditional caregiver we all know

What is a caregiver? Although the term itself is relatively young, the concept is as old as time. As long as humans have cared for one another and relied on each other, caregivers have existed. Caregivers have historically been predominantly women, often caring for their own parents, children, spouses, or other dependent family members. They have traditionally cared for loved ones in their own homes and provided full-time care.

The Modern-day Caregiver

Up to a one-third of adults in most countries are caregivers. With such overwhelming numbers of caregivers, they extend well beyond the traditional idea of who we think a caregiver is. If we look carefully, we discover caregivers who don’t look like the traditional model. Men are becoming increasingly more involved in caregiving. While the average age of a caregiver is middle age or older, the amount of caregivers who are in their earlier adult years is significantly increasing, particularly as in family, both parents these days tend to need to work outside the home.

Levels of Care

When we consider this question, “what is a caregiver” we need to remember that caregiving can be viewed in a variety of ways. We most immediately associate caregiving with daily, in-home care and everyday tasks, such as eating, dressing, bathing, and some light medical care. However, caregiving can sometimes be less hands-on. Caregivers might be primary financial providers or strictly in charge of medical documents and appointments. The level of care provided depends on the needs of the care recipient and may change as health declines or improves.

In-between caregivers

Sometimes caregivers find themselves caring for multiple generations or multiple people at once. They are in between caring for children and spouses or parents. Many of these caregivers are also in the midst of their career. As you identify “what is a caregiver?” don’t overlook the men and women at work all day who then go home to care for children, parents, and spouses.

Caring for the Caregiver

After you have identified who are caregivers in your own life, you may notice they are dealing with many somewhat stressful situations at a time. Caregivers have specific responsibilities and concerns that they must address each day. They may feel exhausted, overwhelmed, or strained. They may be constantly trying to figure out how to get everything done each day and wonder how to juggle all their responsibilities. It’s important to understand that they worry if they are doing enough and wonder how they could provide more and better care. They need your support.

If you’re wondering how to help a caregiver, don’t just ask them “What can I do?” A caregiver is probably too busy to stop and figure out how to work other people into their schedule. If you know the caregiver well, consider their needs. Would they find it helpful for you to cook dinner each Wednesday? Would they benefit from a weekly walk to a local park? Could they use a break on Friday mornings? Give them specific examples of how you would like to help. Offering specific tasks will give them a chance to relax.

Understanding Caregiving

Caregiving can be isolating. Sometimes only those who have walked in our shoes can understand the path we take. For caregivers, even with all the help and support they receive from friends and family, sometimes only other caregivers can understand the frustrations and challenges they face. Allow the caregivers in your life to know that you understand what a caregiver is, what a caregiver does, and how you can help a caregiver with what they need.

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