The Misconception of Caregivers

Are you a caregiver, without even regarding yourself as one? 

All too often, we hear relatives or close friends of an eldely person fail to perceive themselves as a caregiver. While they look after those seniors who require additional support as they age in place, they do not classify, or even recognise, that they fall under this ‘caregiver’ category. 

As a society and across a domain of religions and cultures, we have a unified understanding of relying on families to provide emotional support and to assist older parents, grandparents, and other family members when they can no longer function independently. 

As the average life expectancy increases thanks to medical advancements, coincided with the growing preference to age in place, the role of ‘child caregivers’ is becoming a frequent occurrence. However, it seems that these individuals do not even classify themselves as a caregiver by nature. 

A recent article published on further explains the caregiver misconception, with child psychologist, Ashley Anglin, stipulating that these individuals ‘[…have] never seen themselves in that role’ because it was ‘just something you do’. 

Indeed, there seems to be a real grey area around the idea of what a caregiver actually is, with many children of aging seniors failing to recognise their role as a primary caregiver (presumably due to the ‘habitual’ understanding of looking after your aging parent). In light of this, we explore in this article what a caregiver is and their fundamental role in looking after those senior citizens. 

What is a caregiver? 

“Caregiver” or “caretaker” is an umbrella term that refers to anyone who provides care for another person. There are different types of caregivers that provide specific care, like family caregivers and respite caregivers. Caregivers can help relieve burdens and support individuals in need. They may help for a long time or just a short time, but their care is always important.

What is the role of a caregiver? 

Despite the unique nature of any given caregiver’s role over time, the role of a caregiver can be expected to manage the physical, practical and emotional/spiritual needs of an elderly individual. Caregiving tasks can range from assistance with daily activities and providing direct care to the recipient when navigating complex health care and social services systems, prescribing medication or helping with personal hygiene and care. 

Types of Caregivers

Because “caregiver” and “caretaker” refers to anyone who provides care, there are different types of caregivers. When it comes to senior care, these are the types of caregivers that you may hear about.

 Those government hired or private-duty caregivers are the prototypical people you think of when you hear this term. However, family and respite caregivers are increasingly becoming the primary source of care for those aging seniors – typically due to their financial benefits. 

  • Private-duty caregiver: Private-duty caregivers are hired through an agency. These caregivers are typically screened through the agency, bonded, and insured. Working through a caregiver agency, families can get a back-up caregiver if their scheduled caregiver can’t make a shift.
  • Independent caregivers: These caregivers are also known as private caregivers, but they should not be confused with private-duty caregivers. Independent caregivers do now work through an agency. While the cost can be cheaper, families paying for these caregivers take on the liability of letting someone in their home.
  • Family caregiver: Family caregivers are members of the family who choose to care for a loved one. These caregivers may be children, spouses, or other family members. They may work another job in addition to their responsibilities and usually don’t receive compensation for their service.
  • Respite caregiver: A respite caregiver provides care for a period of time to give a family caregiver a break. These caregivers can be private-duty or independent caregivers, but the role implies that they are not long-term caregivers.

Benefits of a Caregiver

Caregivers provide many benefits to seniors and their families. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Independence: In-home caregivers give seniors the independence they want to age in place. Caregivers can help with laundry, cooking, medication reminders, personal care, and more so that seniors can remain at home and continue their daily routine. Many seniors don’t want to move into a facility, and a caregiver gives them the option to remain at home.
  • Peace of mind: Many family members may worry about their loved one, especially if they don’t live nearby. A caregiver can provide family members and seniors the peace of mind they deserve. Caregivers can be with seniors to help keep them safe and healthy. Having a caregiver you trust with your loved one can be a huge relief.
  • Cost: Hiring a caregiver 24/7 is often cheaper than moving into a facility. Seniors can also choose to hire caregivers for specific hours, so they get care when they need it instead of paying for hours of care that they might not need. In-home care may be covered in your insurance policy, lowering the cost even more.

Implications of Family Caregivers 

The obligatory nature of looking after elderly relatives who age in place does have some implications for family members. While they may not classify themselves as a caregiver, they experience the common trend of ‘caregiver stress’ due to the emotional and physical strain of looking after their aging parent/grandparent. 

Indeed, many caregivers are providing help or are “on call” almost every day. Even if their relative lives down the road, they still need to be on demand in case they require additional assistance. Sometimes, this means there is little time for work or other family members or friends. Some caregivers may feel overwhelmed by the amount of care their aging, sick or disabled family member needs. 

While caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, it also involves many stressors. And since caregiving is often a long-term challenge, the emotional impact can snowball over time. You may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities. It can be particularly disheartening when there’s no hope that your family member will get better or if, despite your best efforts, their condition is gradually deteriorating.

If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind—eventually leading to burnout, a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. And when you get to that point, both you and the person you’re caring for suffer.

How to reduce stress? 

While you need to be on-demand for your relatives when looking after them, there are ways in which you can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. 

Indeed, one of the major concerns when you leave your relatives at home to function independently is that they may fall and injure themselves. This is particularly the case for those individuals whose cognitive ability is starting to deteriorate – such as those Dementia patients – who may feel the urge to wander from their home. 

As such, preventative measures installed within their home can help to safeguard elderly seniors from nasty and costly injuries should they fall or wander. They also relieve the caregivers’ burden of feeling as if they need to be present 24/7, to ensure their relative is safe and well looked after. 

For example, products such as our bed exit alarm are designed with the sole purpose of attempting to prevent a fall or wandering from occurring, by providing an early warning to caregivers when a resident is about to get up from a bed, chair or wander out an exit. Using one of our bed exit alarms or motion sensors, with wireless paging, caregivers can hear an alert and quickly go to the aid of the resident before a fall occurs or before they wander from their home. While the carer still needs to be on-demand, they can rest assured knowing that measures are in place to help prevent the onset of danger when they are not physically in close proximity to their relatives. When they hear the alarm, they can respond accordingly! 

Caregiving is a huge responsibility that comes with a lot of pressure and, of course, stress. The important point to note, however, is that regardless of whether the carer is private, state funded or a close relative, taking responsibility of an elderly senior categorises you as a ‘caregiver’.