What’s the Difference Between a Companion and a Caregiver?

Companion vs. Caregiver Services

Although people often use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference between a senior companion and a caregiver in terms of both responsibilities and training.

What is a Companion?

A companion has less or no training than a personal aide/caregiver and are best for people that need “non-medical” help with some or many aspects of daily living.  A companion can prepare meals, do light housekeeping, and offers companionship. A companion may also help with laundry, do grocery shopping, and drive the older adult on errands. There are no training requirements for a home companion, but you want someone who is able to be caring and is a good personality match with you and/or your loved one. In-home care agencies offer assistance with “activities of daily living” everything from grocery shopping and meal preparation to nonmedical personal care, such as toileting, bathing and so on. Companion costs range from minimum wage to about $20+ an hour, depending on location, experience, and services provided. Companions can also benefit family caregivers who need a break.

What is a Caregiver?

A caregiver, also called a personal care assistant or home health aid, may do all the tasks of a companion, but also offer qualified personal care such as bathing, dressing, toileting, and feeding, along with minor medical care and limited housekeeping. Caregivers are best for those who need personal or light medical care in order to stay in their home. A caregiver/personal aide is typically required to have a home health aide certification, which involves completing a 76-hour, nurse-supervised training program. Caregiver costs range from about $20 to $50 an hour, depending on location, services provided, and training; and 24-hour in-home care can cost approximately $20,000 per month. Medicare may pay for some short-term custodial care if it’s medically necessary and your doctor certifies that you’re homebound.

Another difference is in scheduling. A companion usually works part-time, and sometimes for just a few hours a week. A caregiver is more likely to work set shifts of daytime or evening hours. When hiring someone, keep in mind that your situation is likely to change over time. Your loved one might be relatively healthy today and have a health issue tomorrow. If you anticipate hiring this person long-term, you might be better off with someone who has training and certification. It is also important to have someone who is licensed, bonded and insured. 

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