Is “caregiver” an accurate word for what you do?


Is “caregiver” an accurate word for what you do?


Caregiving is a widely understood profession, but many people do not identify with the “caregiver” title. There are a variety of reasons for that, but we wanted to start a conversation on what alternatives are available, appropriate, and accepted. 

What is a caregiver? 

A caregiver is, by definition, a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person. 

The trickiness of this definition lies in the details. These definitions assume proximity and a certain closeness that may not resonate with the duties and responsibilities associated with caregiving. 

Some caregivers are caring for someone from a distance, whereas others are providing 24/7 personal care for a loved one with several medical issues. Caregiving also covers a broad swath of situations. 

Caregiving can mean listening to your husband reflect on wartime experiences. It could mean preparing meals for someone. Other caregivers may not call those tasks “caregiving.” 

Caregiving titles are fluid and personal.

According to a recent publication from the Rosalyn Carter Institute for Caregivers on military caregiving, 26 percent of caregivers in military/veteran families did not identify themselves as a caregiver. Instead, they were task-identified caregivers which means they were only associated with caregiving through the tasks they performed not because they called themselves “caregivers.” 

This is just one example of caregiving terminology and messaging, but there are many nuances in the language around caregiving. 

In a recent Twitter thread, user @LGlaucomflecken, started a conversation around workshopping the word “caregiver” into something that emphasizes the person doing the care.

In its current form, “caregiver” is rooted in giving to another person, rather than acknowledging and actualizing the person themselves. The word caregiver exists vicariously in the image of the person needing assistance. 

The word caregiver also peels away at the person’s autonomy. The word caregiver exists because that means someone else requires their assistance. 

@LGlaucomflecken also posits several caregiver synonyms in the thread, including:

  • Forgotten patient: With COVID-19 and lockdowns not permitting entry to needed care personnel, families were forgotten and left out of care decisions. Caregivers need a space in the room when their loved one is being seen. Where the healthcare system ends, caregivers and family members alike are left to pick up care the other 364 days of the year. 
  • Co-survivor: This version speaks to the struggles and triumphs of a family going through a diagnosis. When one spouse is diagnosed, the other coordinates care, medication, appointments, and other auxiliary services to help keep the other person as comfortable as possible. They are surviving a diagnosis together. A terminal condition or serious diagnosis doesn’t only affect the person being diagnosed. It alters the paradigm of an entire family’s life and livelihood. 
  • Co-patient: This version implies a relationship, a partnership, and a togetherness between the people providing and needing care. A caregiver is just as much of a patient as the patient is. Caregivers act as their loved ones’ eyes, ears, arms, brains, as well as nurses, social workers, and cheerleaders. 

These terms spark a more inclusive tone and discussion around caregivers as well as the role that they play in the care recipient’s journey. 

Synonyms for Caregiver

Care participant: This form doesn’t assume the closeness or level of involvement in one’s care, but gives people a hand in saying that they are involved to one extent or another. 

Care partner: Many caregiving organizations have adopted this terminology to level the playing field between caregivers and those needing care. While caregiving may sound transactional, “giving” care and taking care of someone else, “partner” suggests working together on tasks and remaining independent. 

Our goal in talking about the language of caregiving isn’t to declare that caregiver is an obsolete or inaccurate term, but to begin a larger discussion of what may work better. 

Do you have any thoughts on a better term that more accurately describes what you do, or what the person who cares for you does? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Looking for a way to explain resume gaps due to caregiving to potential employers? Read, How to Add “Family Caregiver” to Your LinkedIn Profile, And Why it Matters

Check out our caregiving messages survey, and tell us how these messages have shaped the perceptions you have about caregiving.


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Rick Lauber

Yes, I find the term, "caregiver" somewhat limiting. While those of us providing necessary help and support to others do "give" much of our time, energy, and resources into doing this, they can also "get" much in return. Remembering my caregiving years with my parents, I built my self-confidence, fostered better relationships with my parents and my sisters, learned more about my own capabilities, and became a better writer.