Health Encyclopedia


Health Encyclopedia Home

Caring for the Caregiver

Caring for the Caregiver

Caregivers come in all shapes and sizes. They can be adult children, spouses, siblings, friends, or neighbors, who help with daily activities, such as bathing, feeding, and clothing. The caregiver may be the only person who can take a loved one to doctors' appointments. The long-distance caregiver may call weekly, help with expenses, or support the main caregiver.

According to the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), more than 65 million people provide a level of care to a loved one with a chronic disease each year. More than one relative helps out in some families, but most caregivers go it alone. Caregiving can be demanding and time-consuming; it may even increase the risk of acquiring stress-related disorders.

How to succeed

These tips are drawn from professional, government, and charitable groups: the American Society on Aging, the Federal Administration on Aging, The Family Caregiver Alliance, Children of Aging Parents, and the NFCA.

Don't go it alone

  • Ask others for help. Start with family and friends. Keep less engaged family members informed. Set up a family conference, seek suggestions, and talk about disagreements.

  • Ask families with similar problems how they handled them.

  • Involve the person you're caring for. If possible, help the person take responsibility and join in decisions.

  • Learn about your loved one's condition. Find specialists for information and guidance.

  • Tap local, state, and national resources. They can offer help with transportation, nutrition, or day care.

Watch for problems

Mental and physical signs of caregiver stress:

  • Anger or fear

  • A tendency to overreact

  • Feeling depressed, isolated, or overburdened

  • Thoughts of guilt, shame, or inadequacy

  • Taking on more than you can handle

  • Headaches

  • Digestive upsets

  • Weight loss or gain

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Fatigue

  • Illness

Take time out

Be good to yourself. Take time away from caregiving and don't neglect your personal and professional needs:

  • Get lots of rest and exercise.

  • Enjoy relaxing music.

  • Eat nutritious meals.

  • Visit with friends, plan leisure activities.

  • Do deep breathing.

  • Read a magazine.

  • Don't abuse alcohol or drugs, or overeat.

  • Keep a sense of humor.

  • Write your feelings in a journal.

  • Do spiritual meditation.

  • Set limits on what you can and cannot do.

  • Realize you're doing the best you can.

  • Join a support group.

  • Use community resources for help.

Get help

It's OK not to have all the answers. Seek help when you need it most:

  • Call a support hotline. Just having someone listen may help.

  • Speak with a counselor. A professional can help you understand your situation.

  • Talk with your religious adviser.

  • Attend a support group. Groups can explain your loved one's condition, ease tension, and provide a sense of what's important.

  • Look into online support groups and chat rooms. Many of the agencies listed below have internet support groups.

General assistance

  • AARP: advocacy group with publications on aging, including recent legislation.

  • Administration on Aging: access to statistics, fact sheets, and booklets.

  • Eldercare Locator: a service of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging with local services, including home-delivered meals, transportation, legal assistance, housing options, recreation and social activities, adult day care, senior center programs, and abuse prevention.

  • Family Caregiver Alliance: covers medical, social, public policy and caregiving issues linked to brain impairments.

  • National Council on the Aging: information and advocacy.

  • National Family Caregivers Association: dedicated to aiding caregivers through education, research, and support.

  • National Institute on Aging: conducts and supports research, training, and information on aging.

  • Older Women's League: focuses on issues unique to women as they age and offers fact sheets on caregiving.

  • Well Spouse Association: offers support to people caring for a sick spouse who need emotional care themselves.

Specific ailments

Related Items
Wellness Library
  Caregivers Need to Care for Themselves
  Planning the Care of Your Aging Parents
  Caring for an Ill Loved One
  When a Spouse Has Cancer: What to Do and How to Cope
SCC Videos
  Paralysis: For Caregivers
Daily News Feed
  Volunteering May Make People Happier, Study Finds
  Women Who Care for Grandchildren May Be at Risk for Depression
  Costs for Kids' Food Allergies Estimated at Nearly $25 Billion
  Alzheimer's 'Epidemic' Straining Caregiver, Community Resources: Report
  More Deaths Among Older People During Economic Upswings: Study
  Good News for Caregivers: You May Live Longer
  Keeping Holidays Happy When a Loved One Has Alzheimer's
  Health Tip: Caring for Someone With Cancer
  Portable Bed Rails Can Pose Safety Hazard, FDA Says
  My Father's Keeper: Caring for a Parent With Dementia
  Health Tip: Want to Be a Babysitter?
  When Smartphone Is Near, Parenting May Falter
  Hobbies Important for Stroke-Victim Caregivers
  More Than 1 Million Americans Caring for Injured Veterans: Report
  Caring for Severely Ill Kids May Have Silver Lining
Adult Diseases and Conditions
  Assistive Equipment for the Home
  Making the Home Environment Safe
  Being a Caregiver