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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:
People who are not paid to provide care are known as informal caregivers or family caregivers. The most common type of informal caregiving relationship is an adult child caring for an elderly parent. Other types of caregiving relationships include:
Most Americans will be informal caregivers at some point during their lives. During any given year, there are more than 44 million Americans (21% of the adult population) who provide unpaid care to an elderly or disabled person 18 years or older. Altogether, informal caregivers provide 80 percent of the long-term care in the United States.
Caregiver stress is the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. It can take many forms. For instance, you may feel:
Caregiver stress appears to affect women more than men. About 75 percent of caregivers who report feeling very strained emotionally, physically, or financially are women.
Although caregiving can be challenging, it is important to note that it can also have its rewards. It can give you a feeling of giving back to a loved one. It can also make you feel needed and can lead to a stronger relationship with the person receiving care. About half of caregivers report that:
Although most caregivers are in good health, it is not uncommon for caregivers to have serious health problems. Research shows that caregivers:
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.
Part of the reason that caregivers often have health problems is that they are less likely to take good care of themselves. For instance, women caregivers, compared with women who are not caregivers, are less likely to:
Also, caregivers report that, compared with the time before they became caregivers, they are less likely to:
Caregiving may be putting too much stress on you if you have any of the following symptoms:
Talk to a counselor, psychologist, or other mental health professional right away if your stress leads you to physically or emotionally harm the person you are caring for.
To begin with, never dismiss your feelings as "just stress." Caregiver stress can lead to serious health problems and you should take steps to reduce it as much as you can.
Research shows that people who take an active, problem-solving approach to caregiving issues are less likely to feel stressed than those who react by worrying or feeling helpless. For instance, someone with dementia may ask the same question over and over again, such as, "Where is Mary?" A positive way of dealing with this would be to say, "Mary is not here right now," and then distract the person. You could say, "Let's start getting lunch ready," or involve the person in simple tasks, such as folding laundry.
Some hospitals offer classes that can teach you how to care for someone with the disease that your loved one is facing. To find these classes, ask your doctor, contact an organization that focuses on this disease, or call your local Area Agency on Aging (see below). Other good sources of caregiving information include:
Here are some more tips for reducing stress:
If you work outside the home and are feeling overwhelmed, consider taking a break from your job. Employees covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for relatives. Ask your human resources office about options for unpaid leave.
Caregiving services include:
Taking some time off from caregiving can reduce stress. "Respite care" provides substitute caregiving to give the regular caregiver a much-needed break. Below are the various types of respite services that are available:
There are devices that you can buy that can help you make sure that your loved one is safe. Below are some examples:
Also, researchers are developing technologies to allow doctors and nurses to examine and treat patients from locations different than the patient's. This new field is called telemedicine. It uses a communication system, like the Internet or two-way television, to collect medical information and provide instructions to the caregiver and patient. Telemedicine will be most useful in rural areas where few doctors are available. Some states already have limited telemedicine programs in operation.
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to learn about caregiving services where you live. AAAs are usually listed in the city or county government sections of the telephone directory under "Aging" or "Health and Human Services." The National Eldercare Locator, a service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, can also help you find your local AAA.
You might also want to consult with an eldercare specialist, a professional who specializes in aging-related issues. An eldercare specialist assists older adults and their family members by assessing their needs and identifying the best services and devices available to meet those needs. To find an eldercare specialist in your area, ask your doctor or local AAA.
Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies will cover some of the costs of home health care. Other costs you will have to pay for yourself.
The costs of home care depends on what services you use. Non-medical workers like housekeepers are much less expensive than nurses or physical therapists. Also, some home care agencies are less expensive than others.
To find out if you are eligible for Medicare home health care services, read the free publication Medicare and Home Health Care (Publication No. CMS-10969), available at http://www.medicare.gov/Publications/Pubs/pdf/10969.pdf. You can also call your Regional Home Health Intermediary. To find the phone number, go to the Contacts Database of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/apps/contacts. You can also call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).
To qualify for Medicaid, you must have a low income and few other assets. To find out if you qualify for Medicaid, call your State Medical Assistance Office. To find the phone number, go to the Contacts Database of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/apps/contacts. You can also call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).
Besides Medicare and Medicaid, there is another federal program, called the National Family Caregiver Support Program, that helps states provide services for family caregivers. To be eligible for the program, a caregiver must:
Each state offers different amounts and types of services. These include:
To access services under the National Family Caregiver Support Program, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
For more information about caregiver stress, call womenshealth.gov at 800-994-9662 (TDD: 888-220-5446) or contact the following organizations:
Caregiver stress fact sheet was reviewed by:
Rick C. Greene
Aging Services Program Specialist
Administration on Aging
Content last updated July 16, 2012.
Resources last updated May 01, 2008.