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How to become a caregiver: Find the role that’s right for you

Get familiar with the types of senior care, the skills they require and how much you can earn in each role.

How to become a caregiver: Find the role that’s right for you

If helping seniors is something you’re passionate about, there are plenty of roles within the caregiving space to explore. Whether you’re looking to transition your experience into a more formal senior caregiving role or are exploring possibilities as a caregiver for the first time, it’s important to get familiar with the options available, what they involve and the experience they require. Here’s a look at the different types of senior care.

What is a senior caregiver?

Senior caregivers provide care to older adults who need various types of physical, mental or emotional support. Care may be offered in the senior’s home, a skilled nursing or rehab center or an assisted living setting. 

To pinpoint the best fit, Jen Johnson, National Care Director at Atria Senior Living, recommends considering the requirements associated with each potential environment. Senior caregiver roles typically fall under two umbrellas: non-medical and skilled caregivers, the main difference being the type of care provided. 

“If you have a desire to help seniors and want to make a difference, volunteering may be a way to test the waters.”


What is a non-medical caregiver?

The duties of a non-medical caregiver typically involve assistance with daily tasks. A non-medical caregiver may be asked to assist with preparing meals for the senior, reminding them to take medications, running errands and providing companionship. A few types of non-medical caregiving roles include:

Companion caregivers

Companion caregivers provide hands-off care for seniors. This means that a companion caregiver wouldn’t be tasked with dressing or bathing the senior but provide support in other ways. “[Companion caregivers] provide conversation, housekeeping, assistance with meal preparation and assistance to and from activities and appointments,” explains Johnson. 

This type of non-medical caregiving typically requires fewer hours than other roles — as little as a few hours per day. “This makes it difficult to staff, as there is a caregiver shortage, and most caregivers are looking for longer shifts, closer to 12 hours,” explains Ryan McEniff, co-owner and CEO of WellAware Care & Minute Women Home Care. Companion caregiving may be a great option if you’re new to caregiving since most companion care roles are part-time. 

In addition to conversational skills, companion caregiver requirements vary by state and may include a certification course as well as training hours. On average, companion caregivers can expect to earn $15 per hour

Personal caregivers

A personal caregiver takes a more hands-on role. If your loved one has mobility issues, a personal caregiver can help them move around their home, help feed and dress them, and remind them to take their medication at proper times. Personal caregivers may also bathe and feed seniors who have trouble doing so on their own. 

Similar to companion care, personal caregivers may only work part-time and can be helpful for family caregivers who may need someone to provide care to their senior loved one while they’re at work or on the weekends. State requirements are similar to companion care as there may be certificates or training hours involved in order to work as a personal caregiver. On average, personal caregivers earn slightly over $15 per hour

Assisted living caregivers 

If working as part of a team environment appeals to you, working as a caregiver at an assisted living facility is another non-medical caregiving option. “Many times, a potential candidate may have no [formal] experience but has perhaps cared for a family member and, through that process, realized they would like to pursue it as a career,” says Johnson.

Unlike in-home non-medical caregiving, assisted living caregivers work as part of a team at a facility. Duties can range from helping seniors with mobility needs, dressing and bathing, assisting with meals and leading a range of group activities. 

Though requirements vary by state, necessary training may be offered upon employment. “In many states, the community has required training to review with the candidate after hiring as part of the onboarding process, as well as on-the-job training,” she says. The pay range for assisted living caregivers typically falls between $12-$14 per hour

What is a skilled caregiver? 

Skilled caregivers have training and certifications that allow them to provide hands-on care for seniors. This can include bathing and dressing seniors with mobility issues, administering medications and taking vital signs. Types of skilled senior caregivers include:

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

A CNA can provide care at a hospital, assisted living facility or senior’s home. They often work with a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) who reports to the senior’s doctor. 

The duties of a CNA are more hands-on. Monitoring food and liquid intake, bathing, helping seniors use the restroom, recording vital signs and repositioning bedridden seniors are all tasks a CNA can perform. If taking a more personal, hands-on approach to caregiving sounds appealing, becoming a CNA can be a rewarding career. 

Working as a CNA requires formal training through a school or program in skilled nursing, which varies by state. “After the training is completed, there is a state test, and the applicant is given a certificate if they meet all of the requirements,” Johnson explains. There’s also continued education that CNAs are required to complete to maintain their certification status. CNAs are typically full-time salaried employees, earning around $34,000 per year on average. 

“While it depends on the state’s regulations, generally, CNAs can support seniors in the same way an HHA can, while a CNA is able to support seniors and help with medical devices, manage medications and report on vitals.”


Certified Home Health Aide (HHA)

Home health aides help seniors age in place by providing in-home care. Becoming an HHA requires less training than a CNA but still allows the caregiver to perform more hands-on tasks. 

“While it depends on the state’s regulations, generally, CNAs can support seniors in the same way an HHA can, while a CNA is able to support seniors and help with medical devices, manage medications and report on vitals,” McEniff explains. 

During training, HHAs can expect to learn proper bathing methods for a variety of mobile-impaired senior needs, administering proper mouth hygiene and basic medical signs and symptoms. In addition to these tasks, HHAs may also help with housekeeping tasks, preparing meals and providing companionship. 

Depending on your state’s requirements, home health aide training may be offered through local community colleges and hospitals and through the National Association of Home Care and Hospice (NAHC). A certified HHA makes around $36,000 per year

What type of caregiving is right for you?

Still not sure which type of caregiving would best suit you? Why not give it a test drive? “If you have a desire to help seniors and want to make a difference, volunteering may be a way to test the waters,” says Johnson. Organizations like AmeriCorps are always looking for volunteers to provide support and companionship to the elderly in local communities. Consider getting involved on a volunteer basis to determine which senior caregiver role is the best fit.