Caregiver. Care partner. Caretaker.
These are terms used to describe someone who renders care for another.
Typically, a caregiver is a person who provides care for someone who is unable to care for himself or herself independently. The recipient is passive.
A care partner, on the other hand, is a more inclusive term and suggests a sense of cooperation and common goals, a mutual sense of purpose in which each person in the partnership has a role in the care and support provided.
The terms caregiver and care partner are often used interchangeably by those who care for another person.
A somewhat older term that is sometimes used is caretaker, which is defined as someone employed to look after property, such as a building, house, land or animals. By this definition, a caretaker is not really a suitable term to describe taking care of another human being.
Most people function independently during the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. They can still drive, participate in social activities, volunteer and even work for a while. They still have the cognitive ability to make decisions and to make his or her preferences and wishes known.
During this time, he or she has the support and companionship from a care partner, one who is there for minor assistance, and both parties have opportunities to make decisions about the future together, including financial, legal and long-term care planning. They are in a partnership, both giving and receiving, to assess the best ways to manage the disease and strategize for its progression. Hence, the inclusive term, care partner.
As the disease progresses, however, someone with Alzheimers or dementia will require a greater level of care.
Functioning independently becomes more difficult for the affected person and daily routines will need to be adapted and structured. The debilitating symptoms will rob them of judgment, the ability to make many decisions, to communicate effectively and to perform activities of daily living. Care partnering becomes caregiving, in that it is a one-way relationship.
Whatever term is used, the individual who cares for someone else should have empathy, compassion and patience, as well as ongoing education about the disease. In this way, the care partner or caregiver continues to be conscious of the affected individual’s wants and needs.
Why does the distinction between caregiver and care partner matter? Though words can be impactful, the difference in how the relationship is defined can affect how the roles are viewed, and, ultimately, how the individual with Alzheimer’s feels.
Choosing to use the term caregiver or care partner is not as important, however, as recognizing and valuing the roles all individuals — the givers and receivers — play in the journey of Alzheimer’s disease or a dementia-related disorder.