What is a caregiver?
A caregiver gives care to someone who needs help taking care of themselves. The person who needs help may be a child, an adult, or an older adult. They may need help because of an injury, chronic illness, or disability.
Some caregivers are informal caregivers. They are usually family members or friends. Other caregivers are paid professionals. Caregivers may give care at home or in a hospital or other health care setting. Sometimes they are caregiving from a distance. The types of tasks that caregivers do may include:
- Helping with daily tasks like bathing, eating, or taking medicine
- Arranging activities and medical care
- Making health and financial decisions
How does caregiving affect the caregiver?
Caregiving can be rewarding. It may help to strengthen connections to a loved one. You may feel fulfillment from helping someone else. But caregiving may also be stressful and sometimes even overwhelming. Caregiving may involve meeting complex demands without any training or help. You may also be working and have children or others to care for. To meet all of the demands, you might be putting your own needs and feelings aside. But that's not good for your long-term health. But you need to make sure that you are also taking care of yourself.
What is caregiver stress?
Many caregivers are affected by caregiver stress. This is the stress that comes from the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. The signs include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling alone, isolated, or deserted by others
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Becoming easily irritated or angered
- Feeling worried or sad often
- Having headaches or body aches often
- Turning to unhealthy behaviors like smoking or drinking too much alcohol
How can caregiver stress affect my health?
Long-term caregiver stress may put you at risk for many different health problems. Some of these problems can be serious. They include:
- Depression and anxiety
- A weak immune system
- Excess weight and obesity
- Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis. Depression and obesity can raise the risk of these diseases even more.
- Problems with short-term memory or paying attention
What can I do to prevent or relieve caregiver stress?
Taking steps to prevent or relieve caregiver stress may help prevent health problems. Remember that if you feel better, you can take better care of your loved one. It will also be easier to focus on the rewards of caregiving. Some ways to help yourself include:
- Learning better ways to help your loved one. For examples, hospitals offer classes that can teach you how to care for someone with an injury or illness.
- Finding caregiving resources in your community to help you. Many communities have adult daycare services or respite services. Using one of these can give you a break from your caregiving duties.
- Asking for and accepting help. Make a list of ways others can help you. Let helpers choose what they would like to do. For instance, someone might sit with the person you care for while you do an errand. Someone else might pick up groceries for you.
- Joining a support group for caregivers. A support group can allow you to share stories, pick up caregiving tips, and get support from others who face the same challenges as you do.
- Being organized to make caregiving more manageable. Make to-do lists and set a daily routine.
- Staying in touch with family and friends. It's important for you to have emotional support.
- Taking care of your own health. Try to find time to be physically active on most days of the week, choose healthy foods, and get enough sleep. Make sure that you keep up with your medical care such as regular checkups and screenings.
- Considering taking a break from your job, if you also work and are feeling overwhelmed. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for relatives. Check with your human resources office about your options.
Dept. of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health
Treatments and Therapies
- Taking Care of You: Self-Care for Family Caregivers (Family Caregiver Alliance)
- Taking Care of Yourself: Tips for Caregivers (National Institute on Aging)
- Coping with Caregiving: Take Care of Yourself While Caring for Others (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Caregiver Burden (National Institutes of Health)