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Are You A Caregiver?

Caregiver! While the word may not be familiar, what it describes probably is. Your doctor, nurse or family member may even use it to describe you! You are a caregiver if you provide care that enables an elderly person to live at home despite their reduced daily functions, illness or disability.

“Caregiving” often starts gradually. You may already be helping someone by driving them to appointments, preparing a meal or doing household chores. Or, caregiving can happen suddenly and unexpected as a result of a stroke, accident or other illness or condition. Over time you may provide more care such as feeding or bathing, supervising medications, and managing financial or legal affairs. You may share the responsibility with other family members or friends, or you may be doing all the caregiving by yourself. There is no real training for the job and it is something you may never have expected or wanted.

You will be a better caregiver and allow your care recipient to stay in the home longer if you recognize your caregiving role early in the process and seek information and assistance. Good planning, self-care and knowledge of available help will make your caregiving job easier.

Determine Your Goals and Your Limits

Caregiving isn’t well defined, and it can be difficult. Whether you are beginning your caregiving role by doing relatively simple tasks or are providing full care, setting goals can help.

Determine what it is you hope to accomplish by providing the care? Develop a “job description.” And then think realistically about what you can, can’t or won’t do. Remember that a caregiver’s basic goal is to provide physical comfort and safety to the care receiver. Being a caregiver can be a wonderful and rewarding experience, but it can also provide challenges and difficulties as well.

During this time you should honestly evaluate your own needs as a caregiver and recognize your own limits.

As Your Role Changes

While your caregiving goals may not change much over time, your part in providing care will change constantly. The family member’s condition may improve or worsen. They may gain or lose ability for self-care. Your role may change as well. Perhaps more of your time will be required to provide care or perhaps your own health will limit the care you can provide.

Educating yourself on your care recipient’s condition is important. Knowledge is power, and that power enables you to make informed decisions now and for the future. Doctors and other health professionals can tell you the medical and behavioral signs. You also need to know how long the illness or disability will last and how its course will run. There are many organizations that can provide you with information about specific diseases or conditions and services available in your area. The amount and type of care or supervision you provide as a caregiver may change as the family member’s condition changes.

Your role within the family may also change; that is, how others see you, what they expect from you and what responsibilities you have in the family. You may find yourself making decisions for your spouse or parent. Decisions which they would have otherwise made for themselves had their health not deteriorated.

As your caregiving responsibilities increase, your energy and the time you devote to other responsibilities may decrease. You may have less time for yourself or for your other responsibilities.

Many find their role as caregiver rewarding and a fulfillment of commitment and responsibility to their care recipient. Caregivers may gain a sense of accomplishment and capability with their roles.

Primary Advocate

 The actions of an elderly, ill or frail person may not always be understandable or appropriate to others. As a caregiver, you become the link between the care recipient and others, including medical professionals. As the primary caregiver you become the expert on that person: on predicting responses, interpreting communications or ensuring physical comfort. You become their advocate for care and services.

Your objective, detailed and nonjudgmental observations of the care recipient are crucial. However, you should never interfere with that person’s ability to care and communicate for them selves.

Manager and Organizer

As a caregiver, you may assume all or part of the responsibilities of your care recipient’s affairs, finances and resources. This could include any assistance from an occupational therapist, health nurse or other aides. This may also include overseeing the persons financial and personal care needs. As caregiver, you may need to coordinate or supervise others who provide services to your care recipient.

You may become or share the role of “care manager” with other family or professionals. You may be the pivotal person who coordinates doctor appointments or other medical needs. Your role may be to obtain legal or financial services to execute the care recipient’s decisions. You may become the one everyone turns to on matters relating to the care recipient.


Caregiving may include being companion and provider of affection and support for several reasons.

Your role as a main source of support for your ill family member may be intensified by the illness or disability. You could be the person who best understands and communicates with the care recipient. They may be reluctant to burden others and may lean all the more heavily on you. This can also be a chance to enrich and establish a stronger relationship.

Cost Considerations

Providing care for the frail or elderly can be expensive. Your own financial future may be affected by your plans to give care. Consider the expenses:

  • lost income, benefits, pensions by both caregiver and care recipient
  • declining real purchasing power of fixed incomes
  • cost of relocating your household or the care recipient and modifying a home to accommodate that person
  • cost of moving an impaired person to a group facility or nursing home
  • medical costs, including visiting nurses and doctors, medical insurance, occupational and physical therapists, medications and special equipment
  • cost of non-medical assistance such as someone to clean, stay with the person, help with personal care and provide respite or day care
Against those expenses, consider your resources:
  • your family income
  • the care recipient’s finances and property
  • the care recipient’s spouse, children and other relatives
  • insurance; tax breaks; and state, federal and privately supported sources

Your Decision

You must decide if you want and can assume the role of caregiver. While caregiving is a big responsibility, it also provides great personal rewards.