What is a Caregiver? 7 Types of Caregivers

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

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Caregivers are the bedrock of healthcare for families. Without caregivers, society wouldn’t be able to provide for the needs of seniors, people with disabilities, or other people who need temporary or permanent help to be able to recover and live lives to the best of their ability.

When you think of the word, “caregiver” you probably have an idea of what a caregiver is and what they do based on your personal experience. That experience may come from the caregiving you are currently giving a family member, or it may be based on caregivers serving your loved one in assisted living or a nursing home.

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It can be surprising to see how caregivers are woven throughout the fabric of our society. They are in all segments of healthcare--both in formal and informal settings. Let’s take a look at the different types of caregivers and how, without them, our families and loved ones would not be able to function safely.

What is a Caregiver?

Simply put, caregivers are people who have the capacity to provide care for someone else. Routine tasks like housekeeping and medication reminders are just some of the responsibilities a caregiver might have. Depending on the state and a client’s need, caregivers can also provide more complex medical tasks.

A caregiver may have a combination of many of these during the same day. Here are some of the responsibilities of caregivers, regardless of type:

  • Help with bathing and dressing, personal hygiene
  • Monitoring people with mobility problems
  • Light housekeeping
  • Medication reminders
  • Transportation
  • Assistance with transferring from place to place
  • Grocery shopping, meal planning, and preparation
  • Mental and physical activities
  • Redirection and behavioral management for people with memory problems
  • Blood pressure and insulin checks, and other minor medical tasks (depending on your state of residence)
  • Emotional support and companionship
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7 Different Types of Caregivers

Though caregivers by definition can do the same thing, each environment will naturally be a little different. In every case, a caregiver’s role is determined by the needs of the client. Paid caregivers often choose the environment they feel most comfortable in and sometimes move from one situation to another.

Companies are in fierce competition for good caregivers. The job growth exceeds the number of available caregivers.

1. Family caregiver

According to the Pew Research Center, there are over 40.4 million unpaid caregivers caring for an adult over the age of 65. This includes not only children and grandchildren taking care of a relative but friends and neighbors taking care of non-relatives.

In some cases, a family member might be taking care of more than one parent or relative. Long-distance caregivers are also family caregivers and what they do is different, but still valuable. 

Family caregivers are not bound by state regulations that guide paid caregivers, which can be both helpful and harmful. The good news is that family caregivers can do whatever their loved one needs. The bad news is that this puts an enormous strain on someone to provide complex medical tasks often without any training.

Family caregivers are rarely paid, except through state-specific programs. In the short term, cost savings to the economy are enormous. However, the cost to the family caregiver is very high, through lost income and difficulty getting back into the workforce. It is estimated that family caregivers provided care worth $470 billion in 2017.

Family caregivers provide all of the tasks listed above, as well as the following complex tasks:

2. Agency caregiver

An agency caregiver is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or a personal care aide. A personal care aide is not required to have certification, but once they have been hired, they can begin work. A personal care aide may help with light housekeeping, transportation, cooking, and other non-medical duties. Personal Care Agencies or Private Duty Agencies tend to hire both CNAs and personal care aides to serve clients.

In most cases, clients pay agencies for the services provided by their caregiver out of pocket. Others may also be able to use a long term care insurance policy that reimburses part of that cost. Medicaid can also pay for home care through contracted agencies.

An agency caregiver can perform tasks consistent with state regulations that vary widely across the country. With these laws in place, there are some tasks that can be done with ease by caregivers, and some they are simply not able to provide. As the industry grows and the need for caregivers rises, the turnover rate for caregivers working in-home care agencies is 82 percent.

Unfortunately, some agency caregivers are often paid low wages and expected to work long hours for multiple clients during the week. These agencies are starting to improve their pay and benefits to try and keep the turnover rate lower and retain staff.

A good, reliable caregiver agency will do background checks, conduct drug screenings, and provide ongoing training for staff. If your caregiver quits or isn’t able to make their shift, the agency will find a replacement. They will investigate any complaints and have liability insurance to cover any legal costs.

3. Senior living caregiver

Senior living is an umbrella term that covers lots of housing situations, such as independent communities for those 55 years of age and older, assisted living facilities, and memory care facilities. Some senior living caregivers do not frequent independent communities, but there may be some instances where their services may be of help. For the most part, caregivers in these settings do everything from personal care to passing medications.

In assisted living facilities, caregivers are very important members of the team that help people function day-to-day in a safe environment. They help with bathing, dressing, hygiene, and accompany people to the dining room or activities.

4. Home health caregiver

Home health is the general term used to describe insurance-covered care. A home health caregiver can offer physical and occupational therapy, nursing, and speech therapy. If someone is home from an injury or illness and needs help to recover, home health can be a huge help.

Caregivers that work in home health usually visit the patient two to three times a week to help with the basics like bathing and grooming. Medicare, in particular, doesn’t allow caregivers to do housekeeping or cooking. Their role is mostly limited to helping the patient recover to the point where they can be independent again.

5. Skilled nursing home caregiver

Nursing home care is a 24-hour job, and most people in nursing homes need significant care. Caregivers work very hard to do all of the things a resident needs that is not nursing related. Since most residents need help with transferring, toileting, bathing, and dressing, much of their time is spent on these tasks. For residents who need help eating, they also feed patients during meal times or monitor residents for choking or swallowing problems.

Caregivers provide the bulk of care that residents need in nursing homes. Sadly for that reason, some nursing homes are chronically understaffed. If you have a loved one in a nursing home, take an interest in the care they are receiving. Be an advocate for your family member and get to know the regular caregivers if you can. Let them know how much you appreciate what they are doing and ask them to notify you of any problems.

6. Online caregivers

Some caregivers advertise their services with companies like Care.com and Joinhonor.com. These companies post resumes for caregivers and the consumer connects to the caregiver through the company to hire that person.

Care.com does everything from senior care to child and pet care. There are some pros and cons to this online setup, listed below.

Advantages

  • As a consumer, you can view a caregiver’s resume and qualifications but you have to pay a monthly fee.
  • In most cases, background checks and drug testing are required.
  • Generally speaking, caregivers make more per hour and may have better benefits.

Disadvantages

  • Depending on where you live, there may not be access to very many caregivers or any available at all.
  • Sometimes, there may be no system in place for absences or no shows.
  • Inquire about the limits of liability insurance through the company. You want to make sure you have recourse in case of any legal problems.

7. Independent caregivers

Independent caregivers are people who provide care for families, but they don’t work for an agency or company. They are independent and advertise through word of mouth or personal advertisement.

Hiring an independent caregiver works well for many families, but there can be some big risks. It is tempting to hire someone that comes highly recommended by a trusted family member, friend, or church member. On the surface everything may look good, as the caregiver is making more and you are paying less. 

However, these are some things to keep in mind when hiring independently:

  • You alone will be responsible for doing criminal background checks and drug testing.
  • What happens if your caregiver doesn’t show? Who will take care of your family member? Do you have a backup caregiver that can fill in on very short notice?
  • What will you do in the case of harassment or accusations of stealing? You will need additional liability insurance to cover any court action.
  • Check references very carefully. It is not that unusual for caregivers who have pending investigations to continue to be hired by other clients.

Caregivers: Compassionate Care Wherever You Are

Caregivers, regardless of type, provide compassionate and dedicated help. Not everyone has a family, and caregivers are often the only companion someone has. They work hard, and tend to people’s most intimate and personal needs. 

Without caregivers, we could not take care of our loved ones, friends, or families. Caregiving can sometimes be a thankless task, but with different types of industry options, it can also be a rewarding job to have.


Sources

  1. Stepler, Renee. “5 Facts About Family Caregivers.” Pew Research Center. 18, November 2015. www.pewresearch.org
  2. Seegert, Liz. “New Date Updates the Economic Value of Family Caregiving.” Association of Healthcare Journalists. 15, November 2019. healthjournalism.org/blog/2019/11/new-data-updates-the-economic-value-of-family-caregiving/
  3. Holly, Robert. “Home Care Turnover Reaches All Time High of 82%.” Home Healthcare News. homehealthcarenews.com/2019/05/home-care-industry-turnover-reaches-all-time-high-of-82/ 
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