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Carer (UK, NZ, Australian usage) and caregiver (US, Canadian usage) are words normally used to refer to unpaid relatives or friends of a disabled individual who help that individual with his or her activities of daily living.
The words may be prefixed with "family" "spousal", "child" to distinguish between different care situations, and also to distinguish them definitively from the paid version of a caregiver, a Personal Care Assistant or Personal Care Attendant (PCA). Around half of all carers are effectively excluded from other, paid employment through the heavy demands and responsibilities of caring for a vulnerable relative or friend. The term "carer" may also be used to refer to a paid, employed, contracted PCA.
The general term dependant care (i.e., care of a dependant) is also used for the provided help. Terms such as "voluntary caregiver" and "informal carer" are also used occasionally, but these terms have been criticized by carers as misnomers because they are perceived as belittling the huge impact that caring may have on an individual's life, the lack of realistic alternatives, and the degree of perceived duty of care felt by many relatives.
More recently, Carers UK has defined carers as people who "provide unpaid care by looking after an ill, frail or disabled family member, friend or partner". Adults who act as carers for both their children and their parents are frequently called the Sandwich generation.
A general definition of a carer/caregiver is someone who is responsible for the care of someone who is mentally ill, mentally handicapped, physically disabled or whose health is impaired by sickness or old age. To help caregivers understand the role they have taken on, "Next Step in Care" outlines the following:
You are a caregiver if you:
With an increasingly aging population in all developed societies, the role of carer has been increasingly recognized as an important one, both functionally and economically. Many organizations which provide support for persons with disabilities have developed various forms of support for carers as well.