The scope of caregiving in the United States is so vast, it is difficult to wrap your arms around it. According to estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving, there were approximately 65.7 million people providing care for a child or adult this past year. That number is expected to only grow.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What is Caregiving?
- Who is a Caregiver?
- Caregiving Duties for an Older Adult
- Caregiving Duties for Someone with a Disability
- Caregiving Duties for a Child
- Duties of a Long-Distance Caregiver
- Self Care and Support for Caregivers
It is not unusual for families to provide caregiving to multiple generations in the same household. You may be a caregiver and not even know it. The slow drip of caregiving duties can increase to the point where you need help and support.
While you may consider yourself a caregiver, there are some specific responsibilities and duties that are required of those who are employed as caregivers. People who work as caregivers not only provide day-to-day support, they are compassionate guides that help people navigate their lives as they become older.
What is Caregiving?
When most people think of caregiving, they imagine complicated personal and medical care. Certainly, it may be and can be that way for many people, but caregiving can start out very slowly with small tasks and projects.
For example, my parents are independent and live in senior living. They both gave up driving a couple of years ago. My sister and I go to doctor’s appointments with them, shop for any needed items, and pick up prescriptions. Not only that, but we also provide emotional support by visiting and checking in. This is caregiving even though we don’t provide any hands-on care yet.
Let’s look at some other caregiving duties. Some will be familiar and others may come as a surprise, especially as families are being asked to do more and more for their loved ones. In some cases, hospitals often discharge someone home after just a few days with little support or guidance on what to do.
Some caregiving tasks may include the following:
- Doing blood pressure and insulin checks
- Helping with bathing, dressing and transferring
- Transportation to doctors appointments
- Wound care
- Turning to prevent bedsores
- Changing urinary catheters
- Grocery shopping and making meals
- Managing finances and medications
- Home maintenance and lawn care
- Medical advocacy and coordinating medical care
- Communicating with other family members
- Companionship and comfort
- End-of-life and estate planning
Who is a Caregiver?
Almost anyone of any age can be a caregiver. This includes family members, friends, neighbors, children, grandchildren, and church members. Research shows that the majority of caregivers are women, but more and more men are becoming caregivers as well.
As people age and live longer, we see older adults taking care of even older adults. This means that someone in their 60s might be caregiving for someone in their 80s or 90s. Even if you are in your 30s and 40s, you may be caring for a grandparent. You are probably a caregiver even if you “pop” in now and then to offer support and drop off groceries.
Caregiving Duties for an Older Adult
Caregiving for an older adult can sometimes be complicated and stressful. If you are caring for an older person, you will recognize some of the unique characteristics of aging. This may mean that caregiving duties accelerate through time. Part-time, occasional caregiving suddenly gives way to a full-time job.
- Many older adults have multiple complex medical problems. This means that older adults have multiple and complicated needs. A fall can result in a broken hip or some other significant injury. Recovery from these injuries takes much longer for an older person than for a younger person.
- Cognitive Impairment. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affect people over the age of 65 and can progress over time. This can be very challenging and stressful for both the caregiver and the patient. Education and support for cognitive impairment will help you learn to manage things like difficult behaviors and memory loss.
- Housing needs. As people get older and need more and more care, families are often faced with a decision about assisted living or nursing homes.
Caregiving Duties for Someone with a Disability
When we think of disabilities we usually think of a permanent condition that impairs someone’s ability to function independently. If you are taking care of someone with a disability, you can understand the 24-hour nature of caregiving duties.
Some people are born with a disability and others acquire a disability later in life. The individual differences in disabilities guide the caregiver and the duties they must perform to keep someone safe and cared for.
Here are just a few disabilities that affect someone’s activities of daily living such as driving, grooming, walking, cooking, toileting or even eating:
- Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, or Cerebral Palsy
- Brain injuries
- Hearing and/or visual impairment
- Developmental disabilities
- Mental health disorders
- Injury-related disabilities that may be permanent or temporary
You may be taking care of someone who requires total care, with everything from dressing, to bathing, transferring, cooking, medications and transportation. Many of the disabilities listed are progressive in nature, meaning that caregiving duties will intensify over time.
Caregiving Duties for a Child
Caregiving for a child has its own unique challenges, but if you are caregiving for a child with special needs, you may have experienced the heartbreak, challenges, and love that make up each and every day. It can be hard to balance safety, stimulation, and play all in a day’s time. As a parent, you want to protect and care for your child.
Children need a particular level of care, compassion, and support that can be challenging in the face of a myriad of daily tasks. If you are their parent, you know your child best. In addition to the caregiving tasks listed above, there are others you may want to keep in mind for children.
Every care recipient regardless of age or disability needs support, love, companionship, and safety. Children lose a sense of independence through no fault of their own and sometimes they just want to be like other children. Play and laughter are part of being a child and sometimes in the chaos of all other responsibilities, this gets left behind.
Some families are caring for an older adult and have children or grandchildren at home. These multigenerational caregiving homes are not at all unusual. Here are some caregiver duties for these situations:
- Look to others in similar situations for any support services that may help you.
- Helping children (even older ones) feel included and supported.
- Providing for activities and educational needs.
- Making sure that everyone in the household, regardless of age, gets attention.
- Asking older children to help with caregiving needs where appropriate.
Some households have adult children living with them. They too have needs even though they are adults. Don’t forget to ask them how they are and what is going on in their lives. Giving them some responsibilities in the household may help them feel like an important part of the family unit.
Duties of a Long-Distance Caregiver
You are probably thinking, “how can I be a long-distance caregiver if I am not with my loved one?” Hands-on care is not the only way to be a caregiver. The duties of a long-distance caregiver can provide a foundation of support, care, and organization to the situation. Take a look at these ideas to help focus your efforts.
- Arrange for home care. This may include home health covered by insurance or house cleaning and home maintenance. Make sure you have a healthcare proxy form filled before delving into private medical matters.
- Communicate with family members. Reaching out regularly to your loved one helps you keep track of the situation. It also shows your concern and care. Taking the time to communicate with other family members will help everyone feel involved and included.
- Managing finances. With your family member’s permission, you can help manage finances by setting up bill paying and monitoring any unusual activity. All of these tasks can be accomplished from a distance.
You can read our guide on how to be the best long-distance caregiver if you're looking for more tips.
Self Care and Support for Caregivers
One of the most important duties of a caregiver is self-care. It may also be one of the hardest to achieve. You want to do it all and provide the most loving care for your family members. But attempting to do it all may leave you depleted of energy.
Think of it like this: if you are preparing to run a race you want to be at your best. This takes preparation but it also means taking care of your health.
Caregiving is like a race. You want to be in tip-top shape to have the energy, endurance, and focus that you need. Here are some suggestions for self-care:
- Ask for help. This is a very heavy lift for some people. You know what is best if you are the primary caregiver and it can be hard to ask for help. In the end, learning how to accept support will give you much-needed breaks and a respite from the daily grind. You might even consider hiring in-home help or looking into respite options for caregivers through your local community.
- Take care of yourself. If you are exhausted all of the time, your health will suffer and so will your caregiving. We recommend getting enough sleep, good nutrition, relaxation techniques, and regular exercise.
- Go easy on yourself. Recognize that you are doing the best you can. Try focusing on all of the positive things you bring to the caregiving situation and give yourself some kudos!
- You are not alone. Improve your knowledge by reading some books on caregiving. Also, consider reaching out to the wide world of other caregivers and caregiver organizations. Having a kindred spirit to bounce ideas off of may provide you comfort and valuable information on caregiving.
Caregiving is a Hero’s Job
As a caregiver, you are among the millions of hard-working, loving and committed people that sacrifice to support a loved one.
Whether you are just beginning the caregiving journey or are just starting, recognizing the duties of caregiving will help you prepare, plan and manage your own unique caregiving situation.
- “Caregiving in America.” National Alliance for Caregiving, National Alliance for Caregiving, www.caregiving.org/research/caregivingusa/
- “What is Alzheimer's Disease?” Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers
- “ Who Are Family Caregivers?” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/faq/statistics