It’s easy to get confused by the seemingly endless list of acronyms for various types of caregivers. Does your ageing mother need a PSW or an HSW? Is your father being cared for by an RN or an RPN? What does an OT do? We break down the most common types of caregivers, explain what they do, and how they differ.

Medical Professionals

Medical Doctor (MD)

Nearly everyone is familiar with a doctor’s role in personal care. However, many people expect them to be more involved in senior care than they actually are. Doctors can diagnose and prescribe medications, treatments, tests, etc. They will make follow-up appointments for major medical events, but you or your loved one will (hopefully) not seem them very often.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses with additional medical education and nursing experience. This allows them to diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, prescribe medication, and perform medical procedures. They are capable of working alongside doctors in hospitals, medical practices, or even leading their own clinics.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Registered nurses (RNs) are healthcare professionals who work independently or in collaboration with others to achieve and maintain your optimal health. They coordinate care, deliver healthcare services, and support people in their own self-care. To be an RN, the nurse must complete a Bachelor’s degree in nursing, as well as many practical placements. RNs can be highly specialized (e.g., palliative care nurse, surgical nurse, etc.) or broadly skilled. The bulk of senior medical care is overseen by RNs.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Registered Practical Nurse (RPN)

In most of Canada, the term licensed practical nurse (LPN) refers to someone who provides nursing care under the supervision of doctors, NPs, or RNs. They are often the senior caregivers responsible for day-to-day medical care, such as administering medication, dressing wounds, and monitoring a patient’s daily health. In Ontario, these nurses are known as registered practical nurses (RPNs).

Non-Medical Senior Caregivers

Health Care Aides (HCA) or Personal Support Workers (PSW)

The vast majority of general senior care is done by health care aids (HCAs) — known as personal support workers (PSWs) in Ontario. These senior caregivers are responsible for all non-medical care. Their duties can include personal hygiene, assistance with daily activities (e.g., getting out of bed), medication reminders, socialization, and anything else that is required for maintaining quality of life. If you’re dealing with senior caregivers, you are all but guaranteed to meet a HCA/PSW.

Home Support Workers (HSW)

Home support workers (HSWs) are very similar to HCAs/PSWs, except that they exclusively offer in-home support. They are not medical professionals, but they are trained to provide the best general senior care that allows you or your loved one to remain at home.

Occupational Therapists (OT)

Unlike the other types of caregivers discussed here, occupational therapists (OTs) are not typically engaged in ongoing senior care. They provide assessments and information to improve quality of life and work to solve problems that interfere with a person’s ability to do the things that matter to them. As senior caregivers, they identify barriers to independence, recommend adaptive technology to make daily tasks easier (e.g., stair lifts, shower bars, sock assistants, etc.), and coordinate with other caregivers for ongoing care.

There are many types of caregivers in Canada who provide professional senior care. Regardless of you or your loved one’s needs, there is a senior caregiver who is right for your needs. If you’re seeking out care on your own, make sure you ask the right questions to ensure you’re getting the care that’s needed and from the right caregiver.


Do you have additional questions about the different types of senior caregivers in Canada? Leave them in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to answer them.