If you’re taking care of a loved one who is an older adult, you may have used the terms caregiver and caretaker interchangeably. After all, both terms appear to have the same meaning, and people understand what you’re saying with either word.
Yet did you know that caregiver and caretaker actually have different definitions, and different psychological implications? Caretaker vs Caregiver… interesting debate!
Let’s take a closer look at the difference between caretaker and caregiver as they apply to caring for an elderly family member or other loved one, so you’re clear on their differences. This also can help you to choose your words more carefully to best reflect what you do.
What Is a Caretaker?
A caretaker is someone who has ulterior psychological motives in caring for an aging parent or loved one, whether they realize them or not. They may start out with good intentions, but they end up becoming overextended. Ultimately, they rely on caring for their loved one to provide a psychological need, such as feeling loved. They also tend to neglect caring for themselves, which makes a stressful situation worse.
The relationship between the caretaker and the aging loved one becomes codependent, and this can lead to an unhealthy relationship. Here’s a little more information about codependency, in case it’s a new concept for you: “Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship,” according to Mental Health America. It’s not uncommon for someone with codependent tendencies to form one-sided, emotionally destructive relationships.
- Usually want to swoop in and fix a problem instead of letting their loved one try to fix it themselves.
- Focus on problems instead of solutions.
- Are less respectful of boundaries between themselves and their aging loved one..
- Tend to be dramatic.
- Think that they know what’s best.
- Believe that taking care of themselves is selfish.
- Often attract needy people.
- Don’t trust that others can provide good care.
- Tend to use “You” statements to describe what’s happening around them instead of “I” statements.
- May become overwhelmed with certain tasks involved with caring, and this leads them to neglect other important tasks. For instance, they may get wrapped up in certain paperwork but neglect medication management or another crucial task.
In contrast to caretakers, caregivers tend to enjoy providing care for a loved one, even if it is stressful sometimes. They are there to help without expectations, and they realize that it’s important to maintain self-care as well. Caregivers do not create a codependent relationship.
- Focus on solutions.
- Respect boundaries.
- Give without expecting something back.
- Usually lower anxiety and depression in others versus causing these emotions.
- Know that self-care is crucial so they can continue to care for others.
- Offer help when it’s needed but do not step in immediately to fix a problem.
- Are less judgemental.
- Know what’s best for themselves and admit they don’t necessarily know what is best for someone else.
What Are You? Caretaker vs Caregiver
As you read these two descriptions, you may recognize yourself. In fact, you may see facets of the way you give care in both the caretaker and caregiver portions. It’s not uncommon for people to experience this and that is why the caretaker vs caregiver debate is such an intriguing one.
Also, caretaking is a learned behavior. Sometimes, an aging parent or loved one makes it easy for you to develop into a caretaker instead of a caregiver. Here’s an example of how this might happen: You find yourself thinking about problems that may happen for your aging loved one, so you take on even more tasks for them, including tasks they may not want you to handle. When your aging loved one doesn’t appreciate what you are doing, you feel upset or angry. This leads to a vicious cycle of care fatigue as well as possible confrontations with your loved one. It also can form toxic relationships.
If you are over-caring as a caretaker, it’s also possible that you enable your senior loved one. This means that you do tasks for them that they could and should do on their own. Your loved one has a role in continuing this pattern, too.
Even when offered help, a caretaker may vehemently decline it. They see their lack of ability to provide total and complete care as a control issue and/or as making them feel inadequate.
How to Go from Caretaker to Caregiver
In the epic battle of caretaker vs caregiver, if you find yourself in the caretaker role, there are some ways you can remedy this. Here are a few suggestions to help shift to become a caregiver instead:
- Monitor your behavior. Stop yourself (or try the best you can to do so) if you’re falling into caretaking behavior.
- Read up on codependency. If you think you have a tendency to form codependent relationships, engage in some self-help to change your ways. One classic book on the topic is “Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself,” written by Melody Beattie. Another book that’s more focused on caregiving and that might be helpful is, “The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach To Caring For Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself” by Linda Abbit.
- Seek help from a therapist if needed.The regular formation of codependent, caretaking relationships can stem from low self-esteem and the desire to feel needed. A codependent person wants the things they’re doing for someone else to get others to like them more. If you see this tendency in yourself, consider seeking the help of a therapist for more guidance.
- Learn how to say no. By setting boundaries and realizing you can’t do it all, you’ll do a better job of caring for yourself.
- Watch for signs that your elderly loved one isn’t properly cared for. These signs may include:
- A changed appearance, such as wearing clothes that aren’t washed
- Bills that aren’t paid
- Missed doctors’ appointments
- Unexplained weight loss
These could be signs that the care that you or that someone else is providing isn’t adequate. It’s also possible that the care has fallen into a caretaker/codependent role. Seek further help for your older adult as needed.
Ultimately, when considering the battle of caretaker vs caregiver, we’re all caregivers of one sort or another. It’s an important role, it’s a stressful role, but it’s a rewarding role as well.