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What Is a Caregiver and Everything Else You Need to Know

Whether you are interested in becoming a caregiver, know someone who might be a good professional caregiver, or are considering hiring a caregiver for yourself or a loved one, it can be useful to know what it means to be a caregiver and what they do.

What is a Caregiver?

There are different types of caregivers and the more common caregiving becomes, the more confusing it can be to understand what a caregiver is. If you are someone who wants to work as a caregiver, the job requirements change from state to state so you’ll need to learn about the different certifications and education needed. If you are hiring a caregiver, it’s important to understand the differences between non-medical in-home caregivers vs. nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and others in the healthcare field who have overlapping skills.

Let’s start with an important distinction: there are family caregivers and professional caregivers. This article is primarily about professional caregivers, for which there is a growing demand across the United States and elsewhere.

The Demand for Professional Caregivers Has Increased 

You might be wondering why there is such a demand for caregivers. There is more than one reason that caregivers are needed these days. One reason is that people are living longer, but aging is not easy, especially when there is an illness or chronic condition. People may need help with their daily activities in order to maintain well-being, whether they remain in a home or move to an assisted living facility. Another reason that caregivers are needed is that people prefer to “age in place” where they have been living for most of their life, rather than go to facility-based care such as a nursing home. A 2021 poll found that 90% of people over age 50—regardless of gender, race, income, or other factors--prefers to “age in place.”

For these reasons, it’s important to know who can be considered a caregiver, the difference between a caretaker and a caregiver, what a caregiver gets paid more, caregiving skills, and more.

What is the Role of a Caregiver?

The word “caregiver” seems to have the meaning right in it: to give care. Well, that’s nice, but what does it really mean? A caregiver is someone who cares for another person who—due to age, illness, or injury—cannot currently take care of their own daily needs independently.

When someone is hired to provide care, the job can entail a variety of duties as well as require specific training and experience. Typically, people need a professional caregiver to:

  • provide transportation to and from medical appointments
  • prepare healthy meals
  • manage medications
  • be a meaningful companion to help ward off loneliness and possibly depression
  • keep the living space clean, safe and comfortable
  • assist with bathing and grooming

There can be additional needs, but these listed are the most common reasons that a person hires a professional caregiver either as they recover from a surgery, illness, or adapt to changing abilities as they age.

Caregivers may also be called care partners (to reflect that the relationship involves giving and receiving for both parties) and home health aides. Whatever the title, this is an hourly wage job, not a salaried position, and benefits such as health insurance will vary.

Also note that home health, or a home health aide, is sometimes medical care in the home and therefore in a different category, as well as paid for differently, than a caregiver. Click here for a more comprehensive list of what home care is to better understand what caregivers do for a home care agency.

Some people will use the term “caretaker” to describe someone who is in the home to care for another person, but this is usually someone who is employed to look after a building, not a person. It’s more common in England to call someone who cares for another person a caretaker as opposed to a caregiver.

Who Can Be Considered a Caregiver?

If you were hiring a stranger to spend time with your Grandma, your elderly father, or some other loved one who was vulnerable due to circumstances beyond their control, you’d want someone trustworthy and up to the job with training and experience. For this reason, many caregiver jobs are open only to Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and they work under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). A CNA is not a nurse and cannot provide any type of medical care.

Training to Become a CNA Caregiver

To become a CNA, a person needs a high school diploma or GED, plus additional CNA training from a legitimate online course or other type of school. For example, The Red Cross offers CNA training.

Other caregiver jobs may only require—or offer—CPR training in order to be qualified to work as a caregiver.

Background Checks and State-Based Requirements

If a caregiver has the qualifications, the next step is a background check. These checks vary by state and by what responsibilities the caregiver will have. Say the client needs to be driven to the grocery store or a doctor’s office, the caregiver will have to provide a valid driver’s license and current auto insurance. During your home care evaluation as a potential client or during a job interview, ask what checks are done when a caregiver is hired and at what frequency throughout their employment more checks are repeated.

Each state has different requirements on the types of background checks, so it’s important to ask about this if you are helping someone who lives in a different state than you, or if you’ve relocated.

Once hired, a caregiver might work in someone’s private home, or with them in an assisted living facility, nursing home or other type of environment where care is needed for the individual. Caregivers may work a few hours per day with a single client, or live with them and be available overnight and on weekends too.

In some states, such as Texas and New York, a family member can be “hired” or paid to be a caregiver to loved one, but this requires qualification for Medicaid benefits by the person who needs the care. Not all agencies are equipped to staff Medicaid cases either. Sometimes these caregivers can also receive training like a non-relative caregiver once the approval is given for them to be paid to help their family member.

Types of Caregivers

In-home caregivers can be in many roles: elderly caregiver, child caregiver, companion caregiver, line-in caregiver and more. There are various factors that determine the type of caregiver needed and training required.

Training for caregivers may include learning more about caring for children or the elderly, or training may be for specific conditions such as dementia or Parkinson’s. Homewatch CareGivers University offers virtual training for caregivers so that they can grow professionally while also taking care of their clients.

Through training, a caregiver may become a specialized caregiver who works with specific clients, such as those living with dementia. Trainings are regularly updated so that over time skills remain fresh and applicable.

How Much Does a Caregiver Get Paid?

Whether you are interested in becoming a caregiver yourself, or perhaps know someone who might be a good caregiver because they love people and are naturally compassionate and nurturing, you may have questions about compensation.

The pay rate for caregivers is typically an hourly wage and there is not a caregiver salary. The amount per hour will depend on the state where care is needed as well as the caregiver skills required. Some types of caregiving require a higher level of skills and training and therefore pay may be higher. Companion care is a type of care in which there is no personal hands on care and might include providing transportation to a medical appointment, light housekeeping, spending time together playing a game or doing a puzzle, and more. While companion care is meaningful and may combat loneliness for someone who is isolated due to illness or a change in abilities due to age, the pay may be lower than for other types of care.

Some people may require 24-hour care or what is sometimes called a live-in caregiver. Laws require more than one caregiver for a 24-hour shift, but there may be a primary caregiver for certain clients.

Take a look at the caregiver jobs listings in your area and submit an application in order to take the next steps in learning more about the training and pay rates in your area.

Family Caregivers and the CARE Team

When a caregiver is hired to help an individual, they may be helping many members of a family in a way. At the beginning of this article, family caregivers were mentioned. A family caregiver is someone who is not usually paid to help a loved one, but they might do many of the same things a professional caregiver can do.

Respite Caregiver to Assist Family Caregivers

In many instances, a family caregiver just needs a little break from helping out so they hire a professional; this is called respite care. Or, an adult daughter isn’t able to help her elderly father in and out of the shower safely so she needs a professional caregiver to be there once a day for that task only. Or, an adult son travels for work and can’t be there as much as he’s needed so a professional caregiver is just there on the days when he is away. In other scenarios the care needs are profound and surpass the capacity of family members so a trained caregiver is hired to help and in that way sons and daughters and spouses maintain their family roles only. Some states have created programs which allow for family members to be paid for caregiving, but each case must be approved based, in part, on financial merits.

Just because a caregiver is hired by a family, doesn’t mean that the family is not still helping out their loved one. Often a caregiver becomes part of the support system for an individual, with each person stepping in for their turn.

Family Caregiver Turned Professional Caregiver

Sometimes professional caregivers are former family caregivers, who, after taking care of a loved one, discover a calling in life that they find more fulfilling than other jobs. Being a caregiver can also be a job that allows retirees to remain social while being useful to others in their community.

Many people who work as caregivers say that they are natural nurturers or tend to be genuinely caring. These are the people who really succeed in this job, as their kind instincts are rewarded with appreciation from their clients who are grateful for the help.

If you’re interested in working as a caregiver, see if there is a job opening near you by clicking here.

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