- What is a caregiver?
- Who are our nation's caregivers?
- What is caregiver stress?
- Can caregiver stress affect my health?
- How can I tell if caregiving is putting too much stress on me?
- What can I do to prevent or relieve stress?
- What caregiving services can I find in my community?
- What can I do if I need a break?
- What devices can I buy that will help me provide care?
- How can I find out about caregiving services in my community?
- How will I pay for home health care and other caregiving services?
- More information
A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need. Usually, the person receiving care has a condition such as dementia, cancer, or brain injury and needs help with basic daily tasks. Caregivers help with many things such as:
- Grocery shopping
- House cleaning
- Paying bills
- Giving medicine
- Using the toilet
- Adults caring for other relatives, such as grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles
- Spouses caring for elderly husbands or wives
- Middle-aged parents caring for severely disabled adult children
- Adults caring for friends and neighbors
- Children caring for a disabled parent or elderly grandparent
- Sixty-one percent of caregivers are women.
- Most caregivers are middle-aged.
- Thirteen percent of caregivers are aged 65 years and older.
- Fifty-nine percent of informal caregivers have jobs in addition to caring for another person. Because of time spent caregiving, more than half of employed women caregivers have made changes at work, such as going in late, leaving early, or working fewer hours.
- Frustrated and angry taking care of someone with dementia who often wanders away or becomes easily upset
- Guilty because you think that you should be able to provide better care, despite all the other things that you have to do
- Lonely because all the time you spend caregiving has hurt your social life
- Exhausted when you go to bed at night
- They appreciate life more as a result of their caregiving experience
- Caregiving has made them feel good about themselves
- Are more likely to be have symptoms of depression or anxiety
- Are more likely to have a long-term medical problem, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis
- Have higher levels of stress hormones
- Spend more days sick with an infectious disease
- Have a weaker immune response to the influenza, or flu, vaccine
- Have slower wound healing
- Have higher levels of obesity
- May be at higher risk for mental decline, including problems with memory and paying attention
One research study found that elderly people who felt stressed while taking care of their disabled spouses were 63 percent more likely to die within four years than caregivers who were not feeling stressed.
- Get needed medical care
- Fill a prescription because of the cost
- Get a mammogram
Also, caregivers report that, compared with the time before they became caregivers, they are less likely to:
- Get enough sleep
- Cook healthy meals
- Get enough physical activity
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Becoming easily irritated or angered
- Feeling constantly worried
- Often feeling sad
- Frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical problems
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs
- Doctors and nurses
- Websites of disease-specific organizations
- Find out about caregiving resources in your community (see below).
- Ask for and accept help. Be prepared with a mental list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what she would like to do. For instance, one person might be happy to take the person you care for on a walk a couple times a week. Someone else might be glad to pick up some groceries for you.
- If you need financial help taking care of a relative, don't be afraid to ask family members to contribute their fair share.
- Say "no" to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
- Don't feel guilty that you are not a "perfect" caregiver. Just as there is no "perfect parent," there is no such thing as a "perfect caregiver." You're doing the best you can.
- Identify what you can and cannot change. You may not be able to change someone else's behavior, but you can change the way that you react to it.
- Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time.
- Prioritize, make lists, and establish a daily routine.
- Stay in touch with family and friends.
- Join a support group for caregivers in your situation, such as caring for someone with dementia. Besides being a great way to make new friends, you can also pick up some caregiving tips from others who are facing the same problems you are.
- Make time each week to do something that you want to do, such as go to a movie.
- Try to find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet, and get enough sleep.
- See your doctor for a checkup. Tell her that you are a caregiver and tell her about any symptoms of depression or sickness you may be having.
- Try to keep your sense of humor.
- Meal delivery
- Home health care services (such as nursing or physical therapy)
- Non-medical home care services (such as housekeeping, cooking, or companionship)
- Home modification (changes to the home that make it easier for your loved one to perform basic daily tasks, such as bathing, using the toilet, and moving around)
- Legal and financial counseling
- In-home respite. In this type of service, someone comes to your home to provide care. The type of care can range from simple companionship to nursing services.
- Adult day-care centers. Many adult day-care centers are located in churches or community centers. Some day-care centers provide care for both elderly adults and young children. During the day, the two groups meet for several hours to share in activities such as reading stories. This type of contact seems to benefit both young and old.
- Short-term nursing homes. If your loved one needs occasional nursing care and you must leave town for a couple weeks, some nursing homes will care for your loved one while you are gone.
- Day hospitals. Some hospitals provide medical care to patients during the day and then at night, the patient returns home.
- Emergency response systems involve a button on a necklace, bracelet, or belt that your loved one wears. If she has an emergency and you are not home, she presses the button to alert a monitoring center. The center then alerts medical personnel and you. These systems are intended for people who can press the button and do not have dementia.
- An intercom system allows you to hear your loved one from another area of your home.
- A Webcam is a video camera that allows you to see your loved one from another area of your home.
- Mobility monitors use a small transmitter to help keep track of people with dementia. When your loved one wearing a transmitter strapped to her ankle or wrist passes out of a set range, the transmitter alerts you that your loved one is wandering away.
- Care for an adult aged 60 years and older, or
- Care for a person of any age with Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder
- Be a grandparent or relative 55 years of age or older who is the primary caregiver of a child under the age of 18, or
- Be a grandparent or relative 55 years of age or older providing care to an adult, aged 18 to 59 years, with a disability
- Information about available services
- Help accessing support services
- Individual counseling and organization of support groups
- Caregiver training
- Respite care
- Supplemental services, supplies, and equipment, such as home modifications, emergency response systems, nutritional supplements, incontinence supplies, etc.
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
- Eldercare Locator, Administration on Aging, HHS
- Family Caregiver Alliance
- National Alliance for Caregiving
- National Family Caregivers Association
- The National Respite Locator Service
Share this information!
Rick C. Greene
Aging Services Program Specialist
Administration on Aging
Content last updated May 1, 2008