What Is a Caregiver?

Caregiver standing behind a senior

A caregiver, otherwise referred to as a caretaker, refers to an individual who offers support and assistance to those in need. Caregivers are generally family members or professionals with specific qualifications to provide care. The assistance could be required for a child, an adult, or an elderly person with an injury, disability, or chronic illness. Caregivers often work in a home care setting or hospital, but their expertise may be utilized in extended-care facilities, as well.


Regardless of the length of time needed for added support in and around the home, caretakers play a crucial role in alleviating stress and preserving the dignity of those in need of such assistance. Let's take a closer look at the different roles caregivers can play.

Types of Caregivers

While many types of caregivers cover a wide range of industries, these six are the most common.

the different types of caregivers listed

Family Caregiver

A family caregiver is a relative who steps in to provide support for an ill or disabled loved one at home. This can consist of housekeeping, emotional support, nursing, financial support (or any combination of these) on a daily or intermittent basis. It's common for family caregivers to volunteer their time without pay to help their loved ones.

Professional Caregiver

A professional caregiver is hired to offer care. They often provide medical or non-medical support in a home or facility, assisting those in need to ensure they can live as independently as possible.

Independent Caregiver

An independent caregiver is a home care professional who does not work for an agency employed directly by the family. The care they provide is similar to that of a professional caregiver (medical or non-medical).

Private Duty Caregiver

A private duty caregiver often offers a range of services to those they care for. This can include anything from medical or nursing care to bill payments and transportation. Private duty caregivers, who can work independently or for 3rd party agencies, can either provide live-in or day-to-day care.

Informal Caregiver

An informal caregiver is typically a family friend or a neighbor who provides care to someone they have a personal relationship with. Similar to a family caregiver, this role is often unpaid and on a volunteer basis.

Volunteer Caregiver

A volunteer caregiver is usually someone who works in respite or hospice care. Their role is to relieve those providing care to someone with a disability or chronic illness. They offer companionship, supervision, and a friendly new face to the individual with special needs, allowing the caregiver to take a break. Their role is typically strictly non-medical.

Benefits of a Caregiver

Caregivers provide many benefits to those in need and their families. These can include:

  • Independence: Many seniors don't want to move into a facility. A caregiver gives them the option to remain at home and still receive the care they need. In-home caregivers provide elders with the freedom to age at home by helping with laundry, cooking, medication, personal care, and more.
  • Peace of mind: It's normal to worry about a family member who is sick. A caregiver can provide family members and seniors with relief, knowing they are in safe hands.
  • Cost: Hiring a caregiver is often more affordable than moving into a facility. In fact, it may be covered in your insurance policy! It also allows for one-on-one care and ensures specific needs are met without committing to around-the-clock care.

Main Caregiver Responsibilities

the main caregiver responsibilities listed

While obligations will vary depending on the situation, the most common services offered by in-home senior caregivers include:

1. Preparing & Maintaining a Care Plan

Aging doesn't come with a rule book, so it can be tricky to know just how much of a commitment you need from a caretaker. One effective way to ensure all required tasks are looked after is to develop a care plan to maintain the patient’s health as well as the household responsibilities of the caretaker. This is typically accomplished with the input of a family doctor, family member, and those providing services.

2. Helping With Routine Daily Tasks

Memory and mobility issues can make eating, bathing, grooming, and toileting (generally referred to as "activities of daily living" or ADLs in the caregiving community) challenging. In addition, the care recipient's needs can increase with age, which is why requirements are typically monitored on a day-to-day basis.

3. Medical Care

Caregiver responsibilities include ensuring the health of their patients. Older adults often take several prescription medications and may need help with their medication list and ensure dosages are correctly taken. You may also need to keep track of appointments, monitor vitals, and assess pain levels.

4. Assisting With Meals & Nutrition

Food preparation can also become increasingly difficult with age. It could simply fall to the wayside due to motivation or energy. In other cases, memory and balance issues may make cooking unsafe. As a caregiver, you may help with groceries, cooking, or finding meal alternatives to ensure patients receive the proper nutrition.

5. Transferring & Transport

Older adults are at significant risk for falls due to decreased mobility. Caregivers can help move or transfer their patients to and from areas in the home throughout the day to help prevent falls and injuries by utilizing safe person-handling products.

Like other tasks, public transportation or driving may also no longer be safe options. Caregivers can help with transportation alternatives to get your loved one to doctor's appointments and other activities.

6. Providing Companionship

One of the most fundamental yet overlooked parts of caregiving is companionship. Feelings of loneliness in older adults or those confined in their homes due to illness can lead to serious health consequences, including depression. When you provide care, you create opportunities to brighten patients’ days, as you often may be one of the only people they see!