Family Caregivers of Seniors — What Makes Somebody One & What Do They Look Like?

Millions of us are family caregivers to senior loved ones and the numbers are growing rapidly with the senior population.

No, we’re not going to talk statistics here, in part because we think the official numbers well undercount the real number of family caregivers.

More importantly, though, talking about “millions” misses the point that being a family caregiver is a personal thing for each one of us and the loved one for and about whom we care.

When talking with others, we often hear confusion — or at least differences in definition — about what makes somebody a family caregiver and whether they, themselves, “qualify” based on the role they fill for their loved one.

What Makes Someone a Family Caregiver?

As Kathy noted in an earlier article (“AHA! The Moment You Realize You’re a Family Caregiver to an Aging Loved One“), many don’t foresee becoming a caregiver to a senior loved one or, if they do, can’t predict when their care will first be needed.

Some family caregivers are abruptly thrust into the role, such as in response to a sudden illness of, or serious fall by, a parent or grandparent. Often, though, they realize their role of caregiver has grown gradually, based on their senior loved one’s needs.

Just what does it mean, though, to be providing care for a senior loved one? We use a broad definition, one that encompasses most anything a family member might do to make their senior loved one’s life safer, healthier, more comfortable, or more enjoyable.

That’s right, even making their life more fun!

These are activities that can make you a family caregiver if you perform them for senior loved ones.

  • Helping them get out of bed and dressed for the coming day
  • Preparing meals, even if just the occasional meal you bring by their house
  • Driving them to a doctor’s appointment, shopping, or a social activity
  • Cutting their lawn because they are not able to do it themselves
  • Teaching them how to set up their smartphone and conduct video calls with loved ones
  • Chatting with them from time to time on video calls
  • Stopping by to chat, play games, or even join them in watching their favorite TV show
  • Installing grab bars in their home or taking other actions to make it more accommodating to their needs

There are many, many more things that would qualify one as a family caregiver, but hopefully you get the idea.

Several years ago, we made a short video with a tongue in cheek listing of caregiving activities. Our intentions were two: getting people to think more broadly about what might make them a family caregiver and bringing a smile to family caregivers and (hopefully) brightening their day.

See what you think:

We hope you liked it and that it made you think a little.

Why it’s Important to Realize You’re a Family Caregiver

First — THANK YOU for being a caregiver!

It is fulfilling to know you are making a difference to the life of an older loved one, but can also present challenges to your own life.

Many family caregivers have jobs, businesses, or school from which caregiving takes them away.

Others find themselves in a caregiving sandwich, also providing care to their children or grandchildren.

Often caregivers encounter financial challenges due to helping loved ones financially and/or reductions in income because of time spent providing care.

Family caregivers of all ages prioritize their own health below providing care, even while prodding their seniors to attend to their own healthcare needs.

It’s important that family caregivers set aside time to address their own needs, if not for themselves, then to be able to continue putting all they want into continuing to care for loved ones.

First, though, it is important to realize you ARE a family caregiver and recognize the potential impacts providing care is having on you.

What Does a Family Caregiver Look Like?

Many of you may look at yourselves in the mirror but don’t see a “family caregiver” looking back. You are just a family member doing what you think is right.

After all, you don’t look like a family caregiver, right?

But just what does a caregiver look like?

The truth is that anyone could see a family caregiver staring back at them in the mirror. Caregiving knows no demographic bounds.

You’re not too young, too old, or too anything to make a difference in the life of a senior loved one.

As Mother Teresa once said, “it is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.”