What Does a Family Carer Do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A family carer assists someone with tasks of daily living in an informal, nonprofessional environment. This person is often a family member such as a parent, child, or sibling, but could also be a close friend or neighbor. Several traits distinguish family carers from trained health aides and other allied professionals, and these can be important considerations when developing a care plan for a person who needs either temporary or permanent assistance.

Children often become caregivers for their older parents.
Children often become caregivers for their older parents.

Services provided by a family carer can include bathing, cleaning, cooking, and feeding. If a patient has limited mobility, periodic turning to prevent bedsores, assistance with toileting, and help with wheelchair transfers might be needed. Some people also ask their carers for assistance with errands like picking up prescriptions, entertainment, and other necessities from the outside world. Carers can accompany their charges on trips to provide assistance with various tasks, ranging from navigating businesses to attending doctor’s appointments.

Some people may have this role thrust upon them as a result of unexpected injury or disability, as well as expectations. Parents of a disabled child, for example, are usually expected to take on some if not all caring tasks as part of their parenting role. Conversely, children with aging parents who need assistance and want to keep them at home may take on a family carer role. One issue with less formality and a lack of contracts and agreements is that a family carer can become stressed by lack of respite.

This position also doesn’t require formal health education, although people may seek some training so they can be more supportive. For example, a family carer might want to learn to give injections or administer fluids. In cases where a patient receives disability payments and other government assistance, social workers may ask to see the home environment and can talk to the family carer to determine if there are problems. A paid health aide or assistant may supplement care, providing services a family carer cannot in addition to offering respite.

Many working in a family carer role have other responsibilities in addition to care, such as raising other children, working outside the home, and performing other tasks. This can create strain if respite care is not available, because people may feel overloaded with work. In some regions, advocacy organizations promote a sharing of responsibilities that provides appropriate respite through home health, daycare, and temporary stays in community-based facilities. Workers in such areas can periodically take breaks so they don’t develop burnout.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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