What is a Caregiver?

Brenda Blais Nesbitt

What is a Caregiver?

Brenda Blais Nesbitt

If you search for “what is a caregiver?” on Google you will find that caregivers are defined as those who take part in assisting others with respect to limitations they may have due to disability, illness, aging, or mental health conditions. Caregivers can be either paid or unpaid. They can also be either professionally trained or a friend or family member.

One of the most popular caregiver definitions comes from Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady and wife of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who summed it up the best when she said: “There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who need caregivers.”

Professional caregiver definition.

Professional and paid caregivers include doctors, nurses, health care aids, and personal support workers who care for patients in hospital, long-term care, or home settings. 

Family caregiver definition.

Family caregivers are those who provide part- or full-time support  to a family member or friend. They may care for an aging parent, a child, a sibling, or a spouse. If you care for anyone in your life and you check on them regularly, you could be considered a family caregiver even if you don’t self-identify as such. 

Caregivers are the epitome of holistic care. Whether they check on someone regularly over the phone, pick up groceries, or are fully entrenched in another’s activities of daily living, family caregivers are looking at the whole picture. They provide assistance with everything from advocating for their loved one and navigating complex systems to personal and medical care all while providing physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual support.

In many cases, caregivers go from knowing nothing about an illness or diagnosis--or even caregiving for that matter--to becoming a specialist in it! They become the “constant” in their loved one’s care. Some may take on tasks such as medical interventions, needle injections, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and more. Their brains and binders often contain more knowledge about their loved one’s medical history than any hospital chart or medical record. This learned skill is invaluable to holistically managing their loved one’s care. They become the voice for their loved ones in many circumstances and a liaison to the medical team. Caregivers are the glue that holds the whole healthcare team together, and they become sophisticated consumers of any health system they encounter. 

All caregivers hold the wellbeing of those they care for in their hands and hold equal responsibility for health outcomes. However, those who are personally involved are accountable for creating balance in their loved one’s life, and they have a much higher emotional investment. Their loved one’s life is literally in their hands. It’s an immense responsibility.

Family caregiver definition, from a caregiver.

I have been a caregiver for almost 28 years to my daughter, Nikki. She wasn’t breathing when she was born and, as a result, she has never been able to walk, talk, or feed herself. She is medically fragile and technologically dependent for survival. My perspective comes from being as entrenched in caregiving as you can get. I do it all, and it is a 24/7, never-ending journey. Not everyone is as entrenched as I am, but everyone who cares for another person can relate to the physical, mental, and emotional toll caregiving takes. We do all we can to meet the physical, emotional, and medical needs of our loved ones and give them the best quality of life we can despite all of the challenges we face together.

Caregivers are typically selfless and empathetic people who have the ability to give so much of themselves with no need for recognition. (Although it is always welcome!) They also possess the tenacity to do everything they can, sometimes to their own detriment, to ensure the person they care for is as comfortable and happy as they can be. They have the courage to keep going even when they don’t think they can. The reward for the caregiver comes from the triumphs that may be as small as a smile of appreciation or as big as helping their loved one beat an illness against all odds. Our goal is always to create comfortable spaces, provide meaningful companionship, and to have the backs of our loved ones no matter what.

Caregivers are humble. Others often revere them as “superheroes,” “saints,” and “angels.” The truth is, we don’t see ourselves that way. We much prefer to use those labels to describe those we care for. We simply do what feels right, what we are drawn to do, and what we would want done for ourselves if the shoe was on the other foot. For me, it comes down to the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like others to treat you”. If there are really only four types of people in the world and one of them is those who will need caregivers, then how would you like to be treated when you are in need? And to add to Mrs. Carter’s caregiver definition, I would say that once a caregiver, always a caregiver. It’s in your blood. It’s in your heart.

To explore other common caregiver terminology, check out our list at Definitions for Caregiving Terms