Subscribe to New Posts

Get notified when we post on new topics.

The Waterlily Blog cover image The Waterlily Blog cover image
Lily Vittayarukskul profile image Lily Vittayarukskul

6 Personas of a Primary Caregiver

We're delving into an issue close to many of our hearts - caregiving. Whether you're a caregiver yourself, anticipating stepping into this role in the future, or simply eager to understand more about it, this article is for you.

6 Personas of a Primary Caregiver

By: Lily Vittayarukskul

August 4th, 2023


We're delving into an issue close to many of our hearts - caregiving. Whether you're a caregiver yourself, anticipating stepping into this role in the future, or simply eager to understand more about it, this article is for you.

Now, caregiving, as those who've been there know, isn't just about practicalities, like medications and appointments. It's about relationships, compassion, and a deep understanding of the person at the center of it all - the care recipient. That's why understanding and personalizing the caregiving process is so crucial. It's not just a case of ticking boxes; it's about creating a unique approach that respects and upholds the individuality, values, and wishes of the person being cared for.

In this article, our aim is to define the different roles of caregivers - which can vary immensely depending on the situation, the people involved, and a whole range of other factors (National Library of Medicine). We'll also provide a framework for understanding the motivations, risks, and success factors for each role. Being a caregiver is not a one-size-fits-all role, and understanding this diversity is essential. The better we can understand these roles, the better we can support caregivers, and ultimately, the better we can support those who need care.

6 Key Motivating Factors for Engaging in Long-term Care Planning

Engaging in long-term care planning isn't something most of us jump at the chance to do. It's a task that forces us to face the realities of aging, illness, and our own mortality, as well as that of our loved ones. Yet, it's also a task that can offer invaluable benefits. Here are a few motivating factors that underscore the importance of long-term care planning.

  1. Reducing Uncertainty
  • One of the biggest fears many of us grapple with is the unknown, and this is particularly true when it comes to our health and wellbeing. Planning for long-term care helps to mitigate this uncertainty, providing a roadmap for the future and ensuring everyone involved knows what to expect and how to react.

2. Protecting Loved Ones

  • There's a lot of love wrapped up in caregiving, and one of the main motivators for planning is the desire to protect those we care about. By mapping out a care plan, we can ensure that our loved ones receive the care they need, even in challenging circumstances.

3. Ensuring Quality Care

  • There's a lot of love wrapped up in caregiving, and one of the main motivators for planning is the desire to protect those we care about. By mapping out a care plan, we can ensure that our loved ones receive the care they need, even in challenging circumstances.

4. Preserving Financial Health

  • Healthcare and caregiving costs can escalate quickly and unexpectedly. Through prudent planning, we can make provisions for these costs, helping to preserve not just our own financial health, but that of our entire family.

5. Fostering Family Communication

  • Open, honest communication is crucial in caregiving. In fact, relationships between caregivers and their care recipients are said to improve greatly when “communication skills are used” (National Council on Aging). The process of planning for long-term care fosters dialogue, prompting important conversations about preferences, expectations, and responsibilities.

6. The Importance of a Personalized Care Plan

  • A care plan isn't a one-size-fits-all document; it should be as unique as the individual it's designed for. A personalized care plan takes into account the care recipient's needs, preferences, and values, fostering a care environment where they feel understood, respected, and loved.

Understanding Caregiver Identity and Roles: Incorporating Role Theory and Stress Theory

Role Theory and Caregiving

Role Theory provides a lens through which we can understand the various responsibilities a caregiver takes on. According to this theory, society assigns a set of 'expected behaviors' to each role we play. For caregivers, these roles might encompass being a medical advocate, a personal care assistant, or a financial planner. These roles are further explored in scholarly research papers such as those found in the National Library of Medicine.

But these roles are not rigid; they're subject to change based on the care recipient's evolving needs, available resources, and other dynamics within the caregiver-care recipient relationship. Understanding these shifts can help caregivers adapt and navigate their duties more efficiently.

Identity Shaping Through Caregiving

Our roles often heavily influence our identity. When we embrace the role of a caregiver, we often take on the identity of a "protector," a "nurturer," or a "provider." This can profoundly shape our self-perception, our interactions with the care recipient, and how we approach caregiving tasks.

However, it's essential to remember that while caregiving can be a significant part of our lives, it's not our only identity. Maintaining a balance between caregiving and other aspects of our lives can help “prevent caregiver burnout” and foster a healthier caregiver identity (AARP).

Caregiver Stress and Stress Theory

Applying Stress Theory to caregiving, we realize that the physical and emotional demands of caregiving can take a toll on our well-being. Stress from caregiving responsibilities can lead to adverse health outcomes, including chronic stress, depression, and other physical health issues. It was found that caregivers “experience more depression and stress and less general subjective well-being” than those who do not care for an aging or ill loved one (National Library of Medicine: NCBI)

Understanding and recognizing these stress symptoms early on is crucial. Regular self-check-ins, proper rest, healthy eating, and seeking support can help manage caregiver stress before it escalates to burnout.

Identity Discrepancy and Caregiver Stress

At times, caregivers may find a gap between their ideal caregiver identity (how they wish to perform in their caregiving role) and their actual caregiver identity (how they perceive their current caregiving performance). This identity discrepancy can be a significant source of stress, leaving caregivers feeling overwhelmed, often “leading to fatigue, hopelessness and ultimately burnout” (Cleveland Clinic).

Recognizing this gap and addressing it can help. This might involve reassessing expectations, finding additional resources, or seeking professional help to improve caregiving skills.

Managing Stress and Aligning Identities

Caregiving stress is an inevitable part of the caregiving journey, but understanding its root causes can help manage it. Strategies might include setting more realistic caregiving goals, prioritizing self-care, and seeking support from others.

Remember, aligning your actual and ideal caregiving identities doesn't mean achieving perfection. It means working towards providing the best care you can, while also taking care of your own needs. It's essential to remember, as the well-known saying goes, "you can't pour from an empty cup." Recharging your own energies is crucial to being an effective caregiver.

6 Main Types of Caregiver Personas

In caregiving, just like in life, roles can be fluid and overlapping. They're shaped by a host of factors such as the care recipient's needs, the caregiver's skills and abilities, the resources available, and even the dynamic between the caregiver and the care recipient. There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach, but understanding the different caregiver personas can provide a helpful framework for navigating this complex landscape.

  1. Physical Caregiver

Physical Caregivers provide personal, hands-on care. This involves helping with “daily tasks like bathing, eating, or taking medicine” (MedlinePlus). Each day might look different depending on the care recipient's needs and overall health status. On a deeper level, this role may also involve providing comfort during tough times and being a source of emotional support.

The Physical Caregiver's role requires physical stamina, patience, and emotional resilience. They often witness the stark realities of aging, illness, or disability, which can be emotionally taxing.

Fit: This role is best suited for individuals who are physically robust and have a high emotional tolerance. They should be comfortable with personal care tasks and possess the emotional maturity to support their loved one during challenging moments.

Risks/Weaknesses: The potential challenges include physical exhaustion, emotional burnout, and an encroaching sense of loss as they observe the decline of a loved one. There may also be a struggle in maintaining personal boundaries due to the intimate nature of the care tasks.

Succeeding in the Role: The key to success lies in regular self-care, seeking emotional support from others, setting appropriate boundaries, and engaging in activities outside of caregiving to maintain a balanced perspective.

2. Care Coordinator

The Care Coordinator is the mastermind behind a successful care plan. They manage medical appointments, medication schedules, and communicate with various healthcare providers (MedlinePlus). Their role is to ensure all aspects of the care recipient's health are taken into account and adequately addressed.

Fit: This role fits those who are detail-oriented, comfortable with medical jargon, and capable of juggling different tasks at once. They must be assertive enough to advocate for the care recipient's needs in medical settings.

Risks/Weaknesses: The role can sometimes be overwhelming, leading to stress and burnout. Moreover, the healthcare system's complexities can be daunting, and there may be instances where they feel lost or frustrated.

Succeeding in the Role: Effective Care Coordinators are proactive, organized, and maintain open communication with all involved. They lean on technology to manage schedules and medical information, and are not afraid to ask questions or seek clarification from healthcare professionals.

3. Financial Caregiver

The Financial Caregiver is the economic pillar of the caregiving team. They “help manage your financial life,” taking care of budgeting for care costs, managing insurance claims, overseeing the spending on medicines and medical equipment, and even ensuring estate plans are in place and up to date (Schwab).

Fit: This role is suitable for someone who is financially savvy, detail-oriented, and comfortable dealing with numbers. They need to have an understanding of insurance policies and the willingness to explore and understand financial and legal matters.

Risks/Weaknesses: They might face financial stress, especially if the care costs are high and the insurance cover is limited. They might also encounter complex financial systems and legal regulations that can be challenging to understand and follow.

Succeeding in the Role: Success as a Financial Caregiver lies in maintaining accurate records, being proactive in understanding insurance coverages, and seeking advice from financial and legal professionals when necessary.

4. Emotional Caregiver

An Emotional Caregiver offers emotional and mental support to the care recipient. They are the ones who offer a listening ear, provide company, engage in meaningful conversations, and help to uplift the spirits of the care recipient (AARP). Their role is invaluable in maintaining the emotional well-being of the individual they care for.

Fit: This role is most suitable for individuals who are empathetic, patient, and possess good communication skills. They should have the ability to remain calm and supportive even when dealing with emotional distress.

Risks/Weaknesses: Emotional Caregivers can often feel emotionally drained or experience compassion fatigue due to the intense emotional demands of the role. They may also struggle with feelings of guilt or sadness, especially when dealing with a loved one's suffering.

Succeeding in the Role: The key to success for an Emotional Caregiver lies in establishing emotional boundaries and practicing self-care. Taking time to recharge, seeking support from others, and accessing mental health resources can be very beneficial.

5. Legal Caregiver

The Legal Caregiver takes care of legal matters, such as power of attorney, guardianship, or advanced directives (Family Caregiver Alliance). They may also help to navigate legal matters related to healthcare and finances.

Fit: This role is suitable for individuals who have a good understanding of legal principles or are willing to learn about them. They must be detail-oriented, organized, and capable of interpreting complex legal documents.

Risks/Weaknesses: The role can be stressful due to the responsibility involved and the complex nature of legal matters. There is also a risk of legal implications if responsibilities are not executed correctly.

Succeeding in the Role: Success as a Legal Caregiver comes from careful research, seeking professional legal advice when needed, and being meticulous in documenting all legal actions taken.

6. Lifestyle Caregiver

The Lifestyle Caregiver plays an essential role in enhancing the quality of life of the care recipient. They are responsible for managing and facilitating social activities, ensuring engagement in personal interests, and maintaining an overall healthy and stimulating lifestyle. This could involve coordination of hobbies, exercise routines, social engagements, and even ensuring a balanced diet for the care recipient.

Fit: Drawing upon the Self-Determination Theory, this role is a fitting choice for individuals who are naturally outgoing, inventive, and have a deep understanding of the care recipient's personality, interests, and lifestyle. They must be able to intuitively cater to these preferences while also introducing stimulating and engaging activities.

Risks/Weaknesses: Lifestyle Caregivers might face challenges if they lack a comprehensive understanding of the care recipient's preferences, leading to possible resistance or dissatisfaction. Further, balancing a multitude of activities alongside other caregiving responsibilities can cause stress, often leading to additional struggle with “depression and anxiety” (OASH) . It is also important to consider that the care recipient's ability to engage in certain activities may change over time, necessitating continuous adaptations.

Succeeding in the Role: Success in the role of a Lifestyle Caregiver relies heavily on creativity, superior organizational skills, a solid understanding of the care recipient's preferences, and the ability to deftly balance these lifestyle activities with other caregiving responsibilities. Being open to feedback and maintaining flexibility in plans will also be instrumental in successfully executing this role.

It's essential to remember that these caregiving roles can overlap, and one person can often take on more than one role. Understanding the demands of each role and your capabilities are crucial in providing effective care. Don't hesitate to reach out for help or delegate tasks when required. Remember, caregiving is not a solitary task, and it's okay to lean on others.

8 Steps For Starting the Conversation About Caregiving Roles and Identity

The thought of initiating a conversation about caregiving roles can be quite daunting. These discussions often tread into sensitive territories, encompassing themes such as health, change, and personal autonomy. Thus, it's critical to approach these conversations with a deep sense of empathy and respect for the potential care recipient's feelings and apprehensions.

When it's time to broach the subject of caregiving, remember, you're not just discussing practical arrangements; you're delving into deeply personal matters. Here's a step-by-step guide to help navigate this crucial dialogue:

Step 1: Preparation

  • Educate yourself thoroughly about caregiving roles and the potential challenges involved. Develop a list of crucial points to discuss, such as the care recipient's needs and your own abilities or constraints.

Step 2: Choose the Right Time and Place

  • Find a quiet, comfortable location where you won't be interrupted or distracted. Ensure both you and the care recipient are relaxed and have ample time for the conversation.

Step 3: Approach the Topic Gently

  • Introduce the subject delicately, stating your concerns and explaining why it's essential to deliberate on caregiving roles. Be prepared for a range of emotional reactions and respond with patience and empathy as well as“concern and support” when the situation calls for it (AARP).

Step 4: Share Your Understanding of Caregiving

  • Outline the caregiver roles you're familiar with and their responsibilities. Discuss the type of person best suited for each role and how these roles might align with your own abilities.

Step 5: Discuss Care Recipient’s Needs and Preferences

  • Inquire about their preferences and needs. Don't make assumptions; instead, listen and encourage them to express their feelings and thoughts openly.

Step 6: Communicate Your Capabilities and Limitations

  • Share your concerns about potential caregiver stress, discuss your abilities honestly, and be clear about any limitations you might have.

Step 7: Explore Potential Solutions

  • Explore options for addressing potential challenges. These solutions could involve enlisting help from other family members, hiring professional caregivers, or utilizing various caregiving resources and support systems.

Step 8: Encourage Ongoing Conversation

  • Conclude the discussion by emphasizing that this should be an ongoing conversation that evolves with changing needs and circumstances.

Engaging as a Care Recipient

If you're on the receiving end of the care, remember that your voice matters. You have a vital role in these discussions, as it's your life, health, and care being considered. Honest communication about your needs, coupled with an understanding of your potential caregivers' limitations, can lead to a caregiving strategy that respects everyone's needs and concerns. After all, the primary goal of these discussions is to ensure that you receive the best care possible, in a way that honors your autonomy and improves your quality of life.


We began this conversation with the aim of understanding and personalizing caregiving roles, and I hope this article has shed some light on that subject. Caregiving isn't a one-person job, and it certainly isn't one-size-fits-all. It's a complex, dynamic process that involves various roles, each with its own motivations, risks, and success factors. Understanding these roles—and the stress and identity issues that come with them—is crucial to effective care planning and management.

But beyond understanding these roles, we must remember that at the heart of caregiving are people—people with their own identities, strengths, weaknesses, and fears. As we navigate this caregiving journey, let's do so with empathy and respect, celebrating the diversity of caregiver personas while recognizing the shared experiences that bind us together.

The goal is to make the caregiving journey less daunting, more manageable, and perhaps even rewarding. After all, it's not just about providing care; it's about honoring our loved ones' lives and our bonds with them.

Lily Vittayarukskul profile image Lily Vittayarukskul
Ex-NASA data scientist building the future of financial planning tools for eldercare using AI. Connect with me to talk about financial planning from first principles.