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
- Caregiver Duties for People With Dementia
- Caregiver Duties for People With Cancer
- What Skills Do Caregivers Need to Succeed?
- What Duties or Skills Could You Post on a Resume or Job Listing?
- 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.
Caregiver Duties for People With Dementia
Being a caregiver for someone with dementia requires a special skill set. People with dementia can vary significantly with their symptoms and behaviors, ultimately requiring caregiver flexibility and patience. Some people with dementia have no personal care needs and others need significant assistance with multiple activities of daily living.
A calm attitude
People with dementia may have memory loss and will ask the same questions over and over again. Their behavior may change hourly from calm to agitated and angry. Being a caregiver for someone with dementia means being able to adapt to these behavior changes by using techniques such as distraction and validation. Staying calm during periods of agitation helps not only the person with dementia, but it also helps you.
As the caregiver for someone with dementia, you will be required to adapt to a variety of tasks. At one point you might have to monitor wandering or other safety issues. Then you will need to pivot and help the person bathe or get dressed.
Using dementia-specific activities
People with dementia need lots of help deciding what to do and when to do it. As a caregiver, you will need to assess what activities the person can do and what they can’t. Dementia-specific activities take some trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. It is common for people with dementia to have very short attention spans or become frustrated with tasks that are too complicated.
Helping with personal care needs
Some people with dementia stay very independent physically for years. Others require help with activities such as getting dressed, bathing, toileting, and hygiene. They also need someone to shop, cook meals, and do housework. So, in addition to memory loss, and behavior problems you will be required to attend to personal care needs as well.
Caregiver Duties for People With Cancer
People with cancer are likely undergoing various forms of treatment, including radiation and chemotherapy. The side effects of these treatments include nausea, fatigue, skin breakdown, weakness, numbness, mood changes, weight loss, and others. Being a caregiver for a person with cancer means attending to these side effects by making the person comfortable and cared for.
As a caregiver, you will want to be sensitive to a person’s need for calories but their loss of appetite. You will want to prepare special meals that have appeal while providing good nutrition. Healing requires protein and high-quality calories. Shopping for and cooking for a person with cancer takes attention to detail and focuses on health and appetite.
Personal care needs
A person with cancer could have personal care needs such as bathing, dressing, medication management, hygiene, and toileting. Helping with these tasks and duties could be temporary or permanent.
When someone has cancer, chances are they will not feel well. Being able to attend to comfort is a valuable duty of being a caregiver. Some of these tasks are making sure the person gets enough rest, that they are hydrated, warm, and have a peaceful and calm environment.
Household duties can include cleaning, shopping, cooking, financial management, lawn care, and home maintenance. Also, as a caregiver, you might need to provide transportation to doctor appointments or chemotherapy and pick up medications.
Going through cancer is an emotional roller coaster. Mood changes and fluctuations are common and can be debilitating. As a caregiver, you are there to provide support and emotional stability. Listening, offering activities that bring enjoyment, and accepting the person’s feelings, regardless of what they are, is one of your duties.
What Skills Do Caregivers Need to Succeed?
Whether in a professional or personal role, to succeed as a caregiver requires a unique set of skills. Most other jobs have defined responsibilities and tasks. But caregiving is a constantly changing role that requires an understanding of human behavior while simultaneously learning how to help someone function safely.
Being a caregiver is like being a care manager- the person who has the big vision to see what needs to be done and does it. To succeed as a caregiver, concentrate on developing these skills:
People who are declining and need assistance of any kind can be irritable, confused, and demanding. Giving up independence isn’t easy. As a caregiver, you will need to be patient as people go through various emotions and as their needs change constantly.
Compassion and empathy
Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and gain a deeper understanding of what they are going through takes empathy and compassion. Without empathy and compassion, you can find it hard to connect with the person you are caring for. Mutual trust is a necessary component of a good caregiving relationship.
Good communication is integral not only between you and the person you are caring for but anyone else who is connected to that person. When you are providing updates and keeping everyone apprised of what’s happening, it helps everyone to feel included. The changing nature of caregiving is reflected in the changes of the person that is being cared for.
As a caregiver, it is important to remember that you are not alone, and making decisions with others input can be valuable.
Observation is noticing changes, whether they be physical or emotional. By observing a decline or shift in mood, you can make the appropriate interventions that might include notifying the doctor or other family members.
Adaptability and flexibility are crucial skills needed to be a caregiver. Tasks, duties, and hours may change, and if you are a professional, your client load can vary. Adapting also means learning new skills that you may need to accommodate your client’s or family member’s requirements. If you can say only one thing about caregiving, it is that it never stays the same!
Initiative is the ability to see and do what needs to be done without being told. As a professional caregiver, there may be a fine line between what your assigned tasks are and anything outside those duties. However, if there are simple things that clearly need to be done, do them.
Showing initiative proves you are motivated and aware of the person you are caring for and their environment. Safety is a caregiver’s responsibility, and you should report obvious safety hazards no matter what, even if it is regarding the person or the home.
What Duties or Skills Could You Post on a Resume or Job Listing?
The above listed skills can help a caregiver to succeed, and of course, are worth mentioning on a resume or job listing. To stand out above the rest, you’ll want to highlight some additional duties and skills. If you feel that you lack in some skills, take some classes before putting together a resume. Enhancing your skill set can give you confidence and make you more marketable.
If your state allows caregivers to perform some medical tasks, add these to your resume. Some possibilities worth including are diabetes checks, administering medications, doing shots, and administering glucometer checks. If you have CPR or other training, make sure you list them. Other non-medical but equally important skills are transferring, assistance with mobility, bathing, and identifying skin breakdown.
Experience working with dementia patients
Many if not most professional caregiving jobs will involve working with clients who have dementia. The kind of skills needed for this work is being aware of safety issues, specific dementia activities, experience with cooking nutritious meals, reinforcing hydration and mobility, and management of difficult behaviors.
Any employer is going to require someone who demonstrates responsibility. The characteristics of a responsible person typically include being prompt, showing up on time, reporting problems to the appropriate person, being accountable for mistakes, and being responsive to requests.
Flexibility and adaptability are related and show a willingness to change direction without complaining. The caregiving industry values flexibility due to the changing nature of client load, hours and tasks, and duties themselves.
Willingness to learn new skills
Most professional caregiving agencies offer ongoing classes to caregivers who want to sharpen and expand their skills. An eagerness to learn new skills shows that you are motivated and will do what is necessary to meet the needs of a variety of clients.
Ability to handle emergencies
You may not be qualified to handle critical healthcare emergencies, but you should know what to do to get help. Aside from learning how to respond, you will want to know how to stay calm in a storm, also described as grace under pressure. You can highlight the fact that you can handle your emotions if things don’t go as planned.
A commitment to customer service
When you are a caregiver for an agency, you represent that company and they expect and appreciate a professional and accommodating demeanor. It is not only your duty. It is also a skill to be positive, helpful, and agreeable.
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, caregiving.org
- “What is Alzheimer's Disease?” Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Association, alz.org
- “ Who Are Family Caregivers?” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, apa.org