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Caregiver VS CNA

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A CNA is short for a certified nurse assistant or simply a nursing assistant. Although they provide care to the elderly, their role is not the same as that of a caregiver. What are the differences between a caregiver and a CNA?

CNAs can provide medical assistance due to their educational background, certification, and medical training. Caregivers lack any certification, which limits the services they can offer to an elderly patient. 

In this article, we’ll explain further the differences between CNAs and caregivers, including the roles that a CNA can take on that a caregiver cannot. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know whether a caregiver or a CNA is more suitable for your senior parent or loved one. 

Is A Caregiver The Same as A CNA?

A caregiver can be almost anyone.

If you’re an adult child who’s caring for your senior parent or loved one in your own home or theirs, that technically makes you a caregiver. Your siblings as well as other members of your family might be caregivers too.

If you have neighbors, friends, or community members who step in with the care of older adults, they’d be caregivers as well.

Anyone caring for a family member is a family caregiver. In professional contexts, there are also independent and private-duty caregivers. Independent home caregivers are not associated with home care agencies, and a private-duty caregiver works in private homes. 

Read our article, What Are The Duties Of A Caregiver.

So, a caregiver is not the same as a certified nursing assistant or CNA. These are two different career paths and the main differences are a caregiver’s lack of certification and formal training. 

We’ll talk more about this later, but CNA candidates go through a training program that includes hours of education and clinical experience to do the job they do.

They must go through a certification process, and pass both a written exam and a practical exam to earn their CNA certification. They’re more medically qualified than a caretaker and thus can take on roles and responsibilities that a caretaker should not. 

A caregiver, especially if it’s a friend or family member, may not always be compensated for their work. That is not true of professional caretakers though. CNAs work for compensation, and that’s another difference between these two roles. 

Can CNAs Be Caregivers?

It’s okay if up until this point, you thought caregivers and CNAs were one and the same. After all, technically, a CNA can be a caregiver.

Here are some roles of a caregiver that a CNA can also do.

Assist With Mobility

Whether a senior needs a wheelchair, a cane, or a set of crutches, a CNA and caretaker alike can assist the senior in getting up and moving around when they have difficulty. This can prevent a sedentary lifestyle in the senior. Assistance can also limit instances of slips and falls.

Meal Preparation/Serving

As a person ages, it’s more important than ever that they eat a well-rounded diet full of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Part of caretaking that a CNA can do is meal preparation or, at the very least, serving meals to the senior.

Assess Their Care Plan

What is the senior currently doing to prioritize their health? Are they getting enough exercise? Are they socializing? Is their diet healthy? Are they taking medications they need and staying up-to-date on their treatments?

Both caretakers and CNAs can follow a plan of care to ensure the senior is taking good care of themselves.  

Help With Basic Needs

Seniors lose mobility and flexibility with age, as established, and that means they need extra help. A CNA in a caretaking role can assist a senior with activities of daily living.

Their job duties might include helping the senior get dressed, open bottles or containers, sit down or stand up, eat, and maintain their basic personal hygiene.

Provide Companionship

When you spend enough time with someone, you get to know them well. Both CNAs and caretakers will develop bonds with their patients through interacting and talking with them day in and day out. 

Find out the differences between a Caretaker VS Caregiver.

What Can A CNA Do That A Caregiver Cannot?

While a CNA can do everything that uncertified caregivers can, the opposite is not true. There are roles exclusive to a CNA. As you’ll see, these areas of care are more centered on medications and treatments and are available to CNAs due to their advanced medical backgrounds.

Act As a Liaison To The Senior’s Healthcare Team

A CNA is like the bridge between your senior and their healthcare team. The CNA will communicate with your senior’s doctor’s office, nurses, and other medical staff to ensure the senior is staying on top of their medications and other care.

Administer Care

Since CNAs see seniors so often, they’re usually the first ones to notice when something is amiss. For example, perhaps the senior’s urine is darker than usual or even tinged with blood. The senior could have unexplained scratches or bruises.

Not only can a CNA determine the source of these injuries (to the best of their abilities), but they can admiinister care, even complex treatments.

Keep The Environment Clean

A CNA will use sanitizing techniques as seen in hospitals and other medical facilities to disinfect a senior’s room or environment inside and out. From the senior’s bed to their bathroom and everywhere in between, you won’t have to worry about germs in your senior’s environment with a CNA around.

Take Vital Signs

A CNA can track a senior’s temperature, pulse, and blood pressure throughout the day or when needed. After tracking a senior’s vitals, if something seems off, the CNA can discuss their findings with a supervisor. This may result in further testing and eventual treatment for a senior.

Move A Senior

CNAs know the proper technique for lifting a person and transporting them, such as from the bathroom to the bedroom or the kitchen to the living room. The CNA can put the senior on an examining table or in a wheelchair without causing injury or pain. 

If a senior is bedridden, then the CNA will turn them over at the appropriate times to prevent bedsores and other issues.

What Are The Requirements To Become a CNA?

You may be leaning towards hiring a CNA over a caretaker, but there’s probably still more you want to know. How does a person enter this role? What kind of education and additional training requirements do they need? 

The first step for an aspiring CNA is to have at least a high school diploma as well as training as a nurse assistant. This will have required spending time at a trade school, vocational schools or community colleges. This training may also be available online or through the Red Cross.

Then they’ll enroll in a CNA course approved through the National League for Nursing Accredited Commission or NLNAC, as well as the nursing board in their state. 

After finishing their education program training, the soon-to-be-CNA will have to take an exam known as the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program or NNAAP exam. The exam combines both oral and written elements. The written part of the exam lasts for 90 minutes and the oral part of the exam for a half-hour. 

If they pass, then the aspiring CNA will receive their license. That license is only valid in the state they call home and each state has their own requirements for certification or granting a CNA license.

Find out how to become a companion for the the elderly.

How Many Months Does It Take To Become A CNA?

Assuming a CNA has already received their GED or high school diploma, how long will they spend training to become a CNA?

That varies on a state-by-state basis. An aspiring CNA might undergo training for upwards of a month (four weeks) or three months (12 weeks). In some instances, training is prolonged, and the CNA-in-training will receive instruction for six months before they take their exam. 

It all depends on the training course offered in an aspiring CNA’s state and how in-depth the instruction goes. 

To register for the NNAAP exam, aspiring CNAs must have completed 75 or more hours of schooling in a program accredited by their state. Some states require more hours of training but shouldn’t demand fewer hours. 


Caregivers and CNAs may share some responsibilities in a senior’s care, but the two roles are not the same. A CNA undergoes more training and has a license that allows them to provide additional support and administer more skilled care than what a caregiver can provide. 

Both CNAs and caregivers can have their place in a senior’s life! 

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