Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Care Partner: An Emerging Term

Photo by Ian MacKenzie
Since 2010, I have been spending about twenty hours a week reading about the challenges and opportunities of aging.  Part of this time included reading a great deal about caregiving.

As I read materials from a variety of hard copy and electronic sources, I observed the following related terms for people who help meet needs for those struggling to complete activities of daily living (such as dressing) and instrumental activities of daily living (such as managing finances).

I observed these terms:

  • caregiver (dominate term in the literature for both paid employees and family members providing care)
  • caretaker (dwindling term, also used in another context as a house servant)
  • carer (Commonwealth term used by UK, Canada, Australia, etc.)
Then this year, I read a couple of books that used "care partner" to refer to those in supportive relationships with those living with dementia.  I was pleasantly surprised at the resulting the shift in emphasis.

By using "partner," people are encouraged to preserve the autonomy, dignity and will of those who need some help managing basic life tasks.   The other terms place the person receiving assistance in a very passive role. They are nearly reduced to being an object. The phrase "care partner" emphasizes capabilities and a dynamic relationship between two people negotiating what, when and how the care will take place. 

I assumed that "care giver" just emerged in the last couple of  years.  Wrong. After plugging "care giver" into a search engine, I discovered thousands of hits, some going back several years.  Apparently, I am a late comer. 

I then used one of my favorite "word nerd" tools--Google Ngram Viewer.  This tool allows me to search the rate of use of words and phrases in the holdings of Google Books within the range of 1500 to 2008.  The date range can be narrowed further. 

While there are a lot of other documents outside of Google Books, it's a valuable indicator of word frequency--excepting slang or very recent terms, given that the most recent results only go to 2008 at this time.  So for example, Ngram gives no results for "bromance." 

But I digress. Here are the results on Google's Ngram Viewer for "care partner" for the range 1970 to 2008:

Click on the image to enlarge

You can see that "care partner" makes a notable appearance in the Google Books holding in the 1980s and increases in frequency from that point forward.

It's important to note that some uses of "care partner" refer to institutions that provide a range of services rather than to individuals working one-on-one providing personal care.  However, the increase in the word is primarily used to replace "caregiver," often a meaning a family member but at times can refer to a paid caregiver such as a home health care worker.

Before I logged out of Ngram, I decided to enter multiple terms, which is possible by using commas to separate them.  The results showed me why it took me six years of reading to notice this emerging term. It's so infrequent compared to the other three terms that the blue line indicating "care partner" is nearly FLAT as it hugs the bottom of the chart near the 0% frequency value!

"Care partner"  is still being eclipsed by the other terms, notably caregiver:

Click on the image to enlarge

Even though it's only making a tiny splash at this point, I value the implications of "care partner" and will probably use it with greater frequency. However, I will probably still use "caregiver" as a way to invoke the topic and then overtly explain why "care partner" should eventually dominate.


Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Book Review
Spirituality and Older Adults: Ask, Don't Tell
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)
Books about Dementia



  1. I like Carepartner as a family member, someone not paid to do the job of caring for a person, in this case a loved one. Caregiver I like for a paid person.

    1. You make a compelling argument for why and how to use each of those terms.