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Family caregivers are vital members of their families and communities. Did you know that over 75% of caregivers are women? Or that the average family caregiver spends 24 hours a week providing care? Family caregivers who live with the person they care for spend an average of 40 hours a week providing care. This is the same as a full-time job!

Family caregivers come from all walks of life, and they serve in a variety of roles. Nine of the main roles of family caregivers include:

  1. Advocate
  2. Nurse
  3. Consoler
  4. Helper
  5. Chef
  6. Companion
  7. Safety Guard
  8. Merrymaker
  9. Steward

Each of these roles is important, and they all need different strengths and skills. Let's explore each role's responsibilities and what steps you can take to be successful in those you occupy.

Understanding the Strengths of Family Caregivers

Advocates and stewards are confident, knowledgeable, and assertive.

Older adults and people with disabilities often need others to advocate for them. Some caregivers provide informal support and some serve in more official capacities. Caregivers can be Representative Payees, Guardians, or Conservators. They may have Power of Attorney or Medical Proxy powers. If you’re an advocate or steward, here are a few steps you can take:

1. Read up on Supported Decision Making.

Advocating for an adult means that you must balance their wishes with your opinions. Supported decision making will help you strike this balance. Supported decision making is an alternative to guardianship. As a guardian, you make decisions for your loved ones. Supported decision making allows your loved one to make their own decisions with the support of the people they trust. This is important for family caregivers of young adults who are gaining independence and is also important for caregivers of those with dementia who are less able to make decisions over time.

2. Complete an Advance Directive.

An advance directive is a written explanation of the health care your loved one wants to receive in an emergency. Family caregivers often have to make difficult medical decisions. You may want to sit down with your loved one and complete an advance directive form to know exactly what their wishes are should an event arise. The AARP has templates you can download. Completing the form might be difficult, but you’ll have peace of mind when you know your loved one’s wishes.

Nurses and safety guards are attentive, compassionate, and focus on details.

Nurses and safety guards keep their loved ones safe and healthy. Many family caregivers care for loved ones with complicated medical and physical needs. If your loved one has diabetes, you may track blood glucose and give insulin injections. If your loved one uses a wheelchair, you may watch for skin breakdown. Here are a few things you can do to stay prepared and knowledgeable:

1. Make a list of medications, supplies, and medical providers.

Photo: colorful medicine pills and tablets

Family caregivers have a lot to keep track of. Creating a list of medications and supplies ensures that you know what you need to have on hand. Make it a habit to check your list weekly or monthly, and you will know what you need long before you run out. This list will also help if your loved one needs emergency medical care. Emergency medical providers will know the exact medications your loved one is taking. They will also have a sense of their medical conditions and will know which specialists they see more easily.

Medication List Download

2. If offered, take advantage of home health care.

Some health insurance covers home health care, which means a nurse comes to your home to check on your loved one. Ask their doctor for a referral to home health care if you have questions about wound care or other more medical aspects of their health. When the home health nurse visits, ask questions about the supplies and techniques they use. They can also share warning signs and symptoms that need further medical attention.

Consolers, companions, and merrymakers are sympathetic, kind, and bring joy to others.

Older adults and people with disabilities want to enjoy life and the company of their loved ones. Family caregivers offer a listening ear and some excitement. If you’re a companion who serves in other caregiving roles, it’s important to set aside time dedicated to fun. Here are some ways to incorporate pleasure into your loved one’s life:

1. Plan fun outings once a week or a few times a month.

Getting out of the house to do something exciting can break up any boredom your loved one might be feeling. Seasonal activities include:

  • Going to a pumpkin patch in the fall
  • Driving to look at Christmas lights in the winter
  • Going to a fireworks show on the 4th of July

Visit local museums or theaters on cold days and go to the zoo or the dog park in warmer months.

2. Help your loved one develop a hobby that they can do any day of the week.

Having a creative outlet will give your loved one something rewarding to focus on. Bonus points if you can join in with them! If your loved one is creative, they might enjoy scrapbooking, painting, or crafting. If they like games, you can keep board games and puzzles on hand. Card games are also a great way to keep your brain sharp. If your loved one isn't interested in crafts or games, keep a few photo albums to look through together and reminisce.

Helpers and chefs are steady and reliable and keep things running.

Helpers and chefs are always on the go, and nothing would get done without them! Whether they’re refilling prescriptions, cleaning the house, helping their loved one get dressed, or cooking a meal, helpers and chefs always have something vying for their attention. Here are a few ways to keep that never-ending to-do list under control:

1. Prepare meals ahead of time.

person chopping vegetables

Advanced meal prep has become quite the trend, but don’t worry if the idea of cooking for a whole week in one day stresses you out! It’s possible to meal prep a little bit at a time. Next time you’re making lasagna, make two and put one in the freezer for next week. If you’re making soup, double the batch, and freeze half for later. After a few weeks of this, you’ll have a variety of pre-made meals to turn to when you need an evening away from the stove.

2. Reduce the number of errands you have to run.

Do you often stop at the pharmacy after work? Set aside 20 minutes a week to refill all prescriptions that are running low so you can pick everything up at once. Ask your loved one’s doctor if they can send in 90-day prescriptions instead of 30-day prescriptions. Look into home delivery for medical supplies. These shortcuts will add up to some extra time in your week.

Ready for a Break?

Are you a family caregiver who needs some time to recharge and rest? Apply for a Caregiver Recharge Grant! Home Care Assistance partners with Maria Shriver and the Women's Alzheimer's Movement to award 48 hours of free caregiving services to 100 family caregivers each year, and the next submission deadline is March 25, 2019. Every caregiver deserves to be celebrated, and everyone needs a break sometimes.


Caregiver Statistics

Supported Decision-Making in Your State

Advance Directive Forms

About SDM

About the Author(s)

Ashley Krollenbrock has been a caregiver for her mom for 10 years. She has her Masters of Public Health and JD with a concentration in Health Policy & Law. Ashley has done legal work for two state protection and advocacy agencies for people with disabilities. She is passionate about disability justice, aging justice, health equity, and aging in place. Ashley blogs at, and her goal is to empower families to keep their aging loved ones at home by sharing her story and practical knowledge. Ashley lives in Oregon with her wife and mom, and when she’s not writing or caregiving she loves to travel, garden, and hike with her dogs.

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