What Is Caregiving?

Caregivers are people who provide paid or unpaid assistance to infants, children, or dependent adults. Caregivers often care for elderly people and people with disabilities or debilitating chronic conditions.

In the U.S., about 44 million people above the age of 18 are caregivers. Four in ten U.S. adults care for ill or elderly people, according to the Pew Research Center.

Caregiving usually involves household help and personal care. It can be full-time or part-time, and it can be permanent or temporary, depending on the condition of the person being cared for. According to the American Medical Association, 80 percent of caregivers provide care seven days a week.

What Are the Types of Caregiving?

Caregiving for the Elderly

There are many types of caregiving available for the elderly.

Caregivers and family members can be paid or unpaid, depending on the situation. While many do not provide direct medical care, they can help with personal care, household chores, transport, and shopping. They also provide social stimulation. The frequency of visits depends on need.

Another in-home option is respite care providers. They provide short-term care or assistance, sometimes during emergencies and sometimes to provide a break for primary caregivers. These caregivers are covered by some insurance providers.

For elderly people with chronic medical conditions, regular visits by registered nurses are possible. These nurses can provide medical care and help with rehabilitation. They can also provide hospice care for terminally ill patients.

Nursing homes can provide full-time medical care and required caregiving. At assisted living facilities and retirement communities, caregivers and medical care are available within the same complex.

Caregiving for People with Disabilities

Some caregivers provide help and support to a loved one or family member with a disability or chronic illness. Many chronic illnesses and disabilities can be monitored at home.

Some caregivers in these situations have the authority to make decisions on the patient’s behalf. In such cases, they should be aware of expected outcomes, what kinds of help are needed, and what treatment options are available. However, in most cases, patients with these conditions can make their own treatment decisions.

In many cases, caregivers can help to monitor the condition, as well as help with household chores and tasks like shopping or cleaning. They may also help with grooming.

Respite care services can help caregivers with specific tasks, or take over caregiving for certain periods of time.

Caregiving for Children

Aside from a child’s primary parents or guardians, caregivers include temporary babysitters, as well as full-time nannies and nurses.

Tips for Caregivers

Many caregivers experience stress, both mental and physical. This is more common among caregivers who are relatives or friends of the patient.

Symptoms of caregiver stress include:

  • anxiety
  • weight gain or weight loss
  • lack of sleep
  • depression
  • loss of interest in favorite activities

Stress can harm a caregiver’s health over time. Caregivers who experience stress should seek out support and advice—for example, from support groups or from online resources.

Caregivers can also limit stress by:

  • defining and accepting the limitations of what help they can provide
  • seeking help from others
  • working closely with the patient’s doctor
  • setting personal health and lifestyle goals
  • making sure their employers understand their caregiving responsibilities

Resources for Caregivers

There are many resources available for caregivers, both to help with caregiving responsibilities and to help cope with stress.

A nurse or social worker can help locate local groups. Peer counseling and conversation can help caregivers to take a step back and make better decisions about patient needs and their own ability to provide care.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of fact sheets, checklists, and organizations that can help caregivers develop a caregiving plan or cope with caregiving (CDC).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also has information on disability law, government assistance, and caregiver education (HHS).