The word itself is simply defined. The meaning is tucked right there in the word. A “caregiver” is a giver of care. Someone who provides support, help, or aid to another who needs it. They care for a loved one, a friend, a family member, or another person when that person can’t provide specific care for himself or herself. Caregivers are a diverse group – providing a wide variety of care in a variety of situations. Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves, “what is a caregiver?” Once we identify caregivers in our own lives, we can support them in their important work.
The Traditional Caregiver
What is a caregiver? Although the term itself is relatively young, springing into our daily language in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the concept is as old as time. As long as humans have cared for one another and relied on each other, caregivers have existed. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, caregivers have historically been predominantly women, often caring for their own parents, children, spouses, or other dependent family members. They have traditionally cared for loved ones in their own homes and provided full-time care.
The Modern Caregiver
The Family Caregiver Alliance states that one third of American adults are caregivers. With such an overwhelming population, we can be sure that caregivers extend beyond the traditional demographic. If we look carefully, we discover caregivers who don’t look like the traditional model. Men are becoming increasingly more involved in caregiving. While the average age of a caregiver is middle age or older, the amount of caregivers who are in their earlier adult years is significantly increasing.
Levels of Care
When we consider this question, “what is a caregiver?” we need to remember that caregiving can manifest in a variety of ways. We most immediately associate caregiving with daily, in-home care and every day tasks, such as eating, dressing, bathing, and medical care. However caregiving can sometimes be less hands-on. Caregivers might be primary financial providers or strictly in charge of medical documents and appointments. The level of care provided depends on the needs of the care recipient and may change as health declines or improves.
Sometimes caregivers find themselves caring for multiple generations or multiple people at once. They are sandwiched between caring for children and spouses or parents. Many of these caregivers are also in the midst of their career. As you identify “what is a caregiver?” don’t overlook the men and women at work all day who then go home to care for children, parents, and spouses.
With technology keeping us closer together than ever before, long-distance caregiving is an option for many. For siblings, children, nieces, nephews, friends and more, offering care from across the country or around the world is sometimes the best they can do. These caregivers can often go unnoticed as you won’t hear about them visiting a loved one or see medical appointments on their calendar. However, the emotional challenges that come with long-distance caregiving are just as real. In conversations with long-distance caregiving, you might hear about the documents they are tasked with organized or filing, the food and snacks they have been sending, or financial responsibilities. Listen for caregiving clues to support these caregivers.
Setting up a Lotsa Community can keep everyone in touch and up-to-date on the latest needs and progress. Learn more about how a Lotsa Community works so you can leverage the power of your community to help a caregiver in your life.
Caring for a Caregiver
After you have identified the caregivers in your own life, you may notice they are dealing with many stressors at a time. Caregivers have specific responsibilities and concerns that they deal with every day. They may feel exhausted, overwhelmed, or strained. They may be constantly trying to figure out how to get everything done each day and wondering how to juggle all the responsibilities of a caregiver. It’s important to understand that they worry if they are doing enough and wonder how they could provide more and better care. They need your support. Away to help includes using your Lotsa Community to schedule meals, errands, appointments, carpooling, and more.
If you’re wondering how to help a caregiver, don’t just ask them “What can I do?” A caregiver is probably too busy to stop and figure out how to work you into the schedule. If you know the caregiver well, consider their needs. Would they find it helpful for you to cook dinner each Wednesday? Would they benefit from a weekly walk at the park? Could they use a break on Thursday mornings? Give them specific examples of how you would like to help. Tell them “I would like to bring you dinner on Wednesday. It will be in a cooler on your porch by 4 pm” or “I would like to take over the carpools on Thursdays so you can spend time doing something you enjoy.” Offering specific tasks will give them a chance to relax.
Caregiving can be isolating. Sometimes only those who have walked in our shoes can understand the path we take. For caregivers, even with all the help and support they receive from friends and family, sometimes only other caregivers can understand the frustrations and challenges they face. Allow the caregivers in your life to know that you understand what a caregiver is, what a caregiver does, and how you can help a caregiver with what they need.