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What Does It Mean to be a Caregiver?

Caregivers play a monumental role in the lives of those they serve, but who is considered a caregiver, and the duties that entails — are often misunderstood. While there are obvious cases, like family members that care for a sick loved one fulltime, what about people that still give a significant amount of help to a loved one, but not in the place of a fulltime job? The line between helpful family member and caregiver is blurry, but this distinction can make an important difference, especially if you’re seeking assistance for your caregiving efforts. November is National Family Caregiver Month, making now the best time to not only define and explain what caregivers do, but also to make sure they know where they can find aid.

What is a Caregiver?

Generally, caregivers are individuals that give aid or perform tasks for someone, adult or minor, who otherwise struggles to do them on their own. The reasons for this could be due to injury, disability, chronic illness, or any other condition that can inhibit a person’s quality of life. Caregivers can fall into two broad groups – informal and professional.

Informal caretakers can include family members or friends that take aid-giving roles in the individual’s life. This fairly broad definition would seem to make a lot of people caregivers, but each state has its own set of factors to consider when defining a caregiver’s status, especially in regard to financial aid or community support.

In contrast, professional caregivers are hired or appointed and paid by the individual for their services. Depending on the services given, it may be covered by Medicare. For example, many of the duties that fall under the caregiver umbrella would be covered under hospice care or as part of inpatient care in a skilled nursing facility. Other services may be considered long-term care, and therefore not covered by Medicare. If you or someone in your family require a professional caregiver as part of long-term care coverage, we suggest you find a suitable long-term care insurance plan or see if you qualify for a program like PACE. As mentioned previously, Medicare usually covers caregiving at home if it’s part of a home health care plan, though the distinction between home health care and long-term care remains a gray area.

Who are Caregivers?

If you think you may be a caregiver, you’re not alone. A study found that as many as 1 in 5 Americans can be considered caregivers, with the vast majority (41.8 million people) caring for seniors. This number has grown in the last five years as the population continues to grow. The average caregiver spends roughly 20 hours each week helping their loved one. The value of the services provided by caregivers around the country are estimated to be worth about $470 billion annually. However, the vast majority of these caregivers are unpaid, taking care of their loved ones out of duty and love.

So, what exactly do caregivers do that usually qualify them as caregivers? As mentioned earlier, each state and caregiver group will have their own definition. If you’re looking for support from a specific group, we suggest looking at their individual requirements. To give you an idea, though, John Hopkins Medicine shared a simple quiz to determine if you’re a family caregiver.

Am I a Caregiver?

Transportation to medical appointments Purchase or organize medications Monitor their medical condition
Communicate with health care providers Advocate on their behalf with providers and agencies? Help them get in and out of chairs or beds
Assist them with dressing Bathe or shower them Get their groceries or other shopping
Perform general maintenance or housework Prepare or cook meals Manage their finances

If you do any of those, there’s a chance you may be a caregiver depending on certain other factors or programs that you may apply to. For example, frequency and necessity of the service will take precedent. Helping to pick up groceries for a friend while you happen to be out or cooking a family meal once a week may be nice, but likely wouldn’t qualify you as a caregiver. Instead, if you get the person’s groceries each week or they rely on you regularly for dinner, you likely are a caregiver. The same may go for housework or finances. Fixing something around the house once in a while or occasionally providing financial advice may not count, but regularly doing the lawn or keeping an eye on their income and spending may qualify. Managing their health care and helping in personal hygiene or mobility tasks like getting dressed or bathing would almost certainly make you a caregiver. This is why the definition of a caregiver can vary from group to group and state to state. A family caregiver is more of a sliding scale as you can give some assistance and not be a caregiver.

Can Caregivers Receive Support?

Caregiving can be time-consuming and costly for many Americans, especially if the need for care is great. Remember, the average caregiver is estimated to spend 20 unpaid hours a week helping their loved one. That alone can be difficult, even if you don’t consider the emotional toll it can take on you. Then when you remember that many situations call for even more time being devoted to caring for a loved one, the task can seem overwhelming. Luckily, there are many programs in place to help take some of the pressure off of caregivers.

Each state likely has its own caregiver support program, although each will have its own definition of what qualifies one as a caregiver and what type of aid is needed. For example, the state of Pennsylvania has a program that can give qualifying caregivers up to $600 each month, reimbursement for care, counseling services, training, and care management assistance. Medicaid and veterans’ programs can also help those who qualify for the aid. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also host a quarterly meeting between caregiver organizations and other groups that may be helpful so that caregivers can see what solutions are available to them. Of course, these are only a few notable examples. If you find yourself needing help, a quick search online at places like the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator or even Google can help you find organizations in your area.

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Being a caregiver for a loved one is one of the most selfless, kindhearted services you can do. This being National Family Caregiver Month, we salute those that care for those that matter most in their lives. If you are a caregiver and feel worn out or overburdened by the help you provide, please check out any of the services we shared above, or your specific state’s caregiver programs. Your help is appreciated, not just by your loved one, but by your community. Thank you for all that you do.

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