Aging & Health A to Z
Basic Facts & Information
Who is a caregiver?
Many people do not consider the help they provide as “caregiving”—they see themselves as simply doing what should “just be done.” In fact, a caregiver is anyone who gives help to someone who is in need of care. This could be caring for a spouse who has had a stroke, a child with muscular dystrophy, a mother-in-law with Alzheimer's disease, or a grandfather with cancer. Most caregivers are unpaid family members or friends who give care full- or part-time. It is estimated that 80 percent of caregivers give caregiving support seven days per week, which usually involves personal care and household chores.
Why is caregiver health important?
Caregiving can be stressful and may contribute to serious physical illness and depression. Caregivers who feel very stressed are more likely to suffer depression and to report a lower sense of well-being. Sometimes caregivers neglect their own health in order to provide care, though this has been shown to worsen the health of both the caregiver and the person they provide care to.
Studies show that 16 percent of caregivers report that their health has worsened since becoming a caregiver. About half of caregivers who care for someone with Alzheimer's disease develop psychological distress. Caregiving can also result in new financial expenses for care—related products, services, and activities for up to 40 percent of caregivers. It is estimated that 26 percent of caregivers spend up to 10 percent of their monthly income on caregiving activities.
Use our Caregiver Health Self -Assessment Questionnaire
to evaluate your own health.
Health Issues and Risks of Caregiving
In addition to taking on household chores, shopping, transportation, and personal care, 37% of caregivers are involved in giving medications, injections, and medical treatments to the person they are providing care to. Of these caregivers, 77% report needing to ask for advice about the medications and medical treatments, and the person they usually turn to is their healthcare provider.
While caregivers may talk to the healthcare provider about their loved one's health, they often don't talk about their own. Caregivers are a population at increased risk of illness and death, yet these health risks are often ignored.
Research indicates that family caregivers face unavoidable stresses and burdens. Caregiving may be an occupational hazard, and its demands place caregivers at risk for psychological and physical problems.
- Increased illness and death
- Chronic stress
- Family conflict
- Failure to meet one’s personal and emotional needs.
Signs of caregiver stress and burden include:
- Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
- Neglect, abuse, or premature facility placement of the person with dementia
Negative consequences are greatest for caregivers who provide more intensive assistance, who assist individuals with dementia, or who are struggling with health challenges themselves.
Benefits of Caregiving
Recent studies have shown benefits of caregiving for some caregivers, including better physical function (because of their caregiving work), lower risk for death, improved memory, and psychological rewards. These caregivers still experience stress, but they also have a purpose and the ability to meet the challenge.
Talk with a healthcare provider about your own stress related to caregiving – either yours or the patient’s, or both. If you prefer, you can ask to talk privately, without the patient present. Your healthcare provider may suggest ways to address the burden of caregiving. There are strategies that have been found to help with specific tasks and challenges, decrease caregiver stress, and improve quality of life. For example, studies have shown that therapy that focuses on coping skills to manage stress can ease depression and offer caregivers a sense of control or mastery.
Many resources are available to address the reality of caregiving. Take a look at our Getting More Help section for websites with helpful information on this topic.
Importance of the Caregiving Team
For caregivers, it’s important to have the help of a caregiving team that includes healthcare professionals. They can provide a strong model to guide relationships with caregivers. Healthcare providers should recognize that caregivers and older adults form interdependent units. The caregiver should be considered a partner with the healthcare provider in the care of the older person. It is also important that the healthcare provider demonstrates concern for and provides periodic assessment of the caregiver as well as the older person.
Updated: November 2016
Posted: November 2014