So, What Does a Caregiver Do?


One of the best descriptions we’ve come across about the work of caregivers is from Dr. Eric Pfeiffer, a psychiatrist who answers questions online about healthcare at From the comfort of your home, you can log onto to find a doctor or hospital, submit questions about medical care to healthcare professionals, and conduct self-administered tests to improve your health. The website is a good resource for information about healthcare.


Here is Dr. Pfeiffer’s response to the question, “What’s a caregiver?”

Dr. Eric Pfeiffer , Psychiatrist, answered

"A caregiver is someone who takes care of another person who is either sick or disabled. A caregiver does those things, and only those things, that the sick or disabled person can no longer do independently. In other words, what a caregiver does depends on just what that other person needs to have done for them. And that may depend on the stage or the severity of the illness or disability. In some cases, and at some stages of a disease, it may involve giving only a little bit of help: steadying the person’s gait, combing their hair, helping them to get dressed or helping them to get to the bathroom on time. In other cases it can go much further, to the point, in fact, where the caregiver does virtually everything for the other person." (Pfeiffer, 2011).

In addition, to the above description, we would like to add information about the indirect support caregivers of the elderly provide to American society. The positive affects that caregivers have on the society are noteworthy in the following ways.

Informal caregivers (unpaid family and friends) and paid formal caregivers prevent elderly people from becoming lonely, living unsafe, or being institutionalized.

If our seniors are forgotten and neglected, then what does that say about the values of the American people?

If our seniors are living unsafe, then it follows that our communities are unsafe.

If our low-income seniors have to go to a nursing home or assisted living facility and they don’t have relatives that can afford to pay the bill, then Medicaid will pay the costly bill.  In the July 2011 AARP Bulletin, researcher Cynthia Ramnarace, wrote, “… nursing homes are expensive. In the United States the median annual rate for a semi-private room is $70,445, but the cost can reach over $200,000 a year.” (Ramnarace, 2011). There is an update to the 2011 rate. According to Genworth Financial, Inc., the current median annual rate is now $82,125 (Genworth Financial, Inc., 2016) an increase just above 16.75%.

The importance of home-based caregiving to lowering Medicaid costs for low-income seniors is evident in Howard Gleckman’s statement. Mr. Gleckman, a fellow recipient at the Urban Institute, a research organization specializing in the areas of socio-economic and public policy stated, “If all those families who are providing family care and do not have the financial resources to pay those fees turn to Medicaid, it would break the back of a system that’s already deeply stressed” (Ramnarace 2011). Caregivers provide indirect relief to taxpayers by intervening on behalf of seniors at risk for placement outside of the home.

The monetary value of caregiving is rising sharply, especially informal caregiving. According to a 2014 Health Services Research study, the $520 billion annual cost of informal caregiving is immense. “Our findings provide a new and better estimate of the monetary value of the care that millions of relatives and friends provide to the nation's elderly,” said Amalavoyal V. Chari, the study's lead author...”(RAND, 2016).