Caregiving can be rewarding. It feels good to be able to care for a loved one. Spending that time together can give new meaning to your relationship. However, it is also physically and emotionally demanding. Many caregivers are providing help or are "on call" practically 24 hours a day. This leaves little time to spend with spouses, children, and friends, or at work. Those who work full or part time may fear that the many days and hours they must take off will put their jobs at risk. Women caregivers often are overwhelmed by so many competing demands for their time.
Money is often a problem as well. The drugs, doctors' visits, or in home medical equipment can be very costly. Sometimes the caregiver is forced to delay saving for retirement or to take out loans or mortgages to provide financial help.
Caregiving also can take a toll on the caregiver's health. They often are so busy taking care of a loved one that they often neglect their own health. Research has shown that women caregivers:
Get colds and flu more easily
Are more likely to have depression or anxiety
Are at higher risk for heart disease
Burnout warning signs
Not taking care of your physical and emotional health will have an effect on your overall health and your ability to care for your loved one. Neglecting your own health also may put your loved one at risk. You may make mistakes when giving medication or forget to make an important doctor's appointment. You may explode verbally, or even neglect or mistreat the person for whom you are caring. Ultimately, you may completely burn out physically or emotionally. This would leave you unable to give care at all.
For your sake and your loved one's, don't ignore these possible burnout signs:
Feeling sad, unusually anxious, or moody
Crying more often than usual
Having trouble sleeping or getting out of bed
Having low energy or lacking interest in things you usually enjoy
Feeling short of breath or like you have a knot in your throat
Getting frequent stomach cramps or headaches
Having chest pains
Drinking too much alcohol (more than one drink a day)
Eating too much or too little
Pay attention to these symptoms and get the help you need. Talk to your doctor about your physical and emotional symptoms. Make sure he or she knows you are a caregiver. Seeing a counselor may help if you are depressed or anxious. And don't ignore emergency symptoms such as severe chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, or pain in the jaw. You may be having a heart attack — call 911 immediately. If you feel like hurting yourself or are afraid you will hurt yourself, talk to a family member, friend, clergy member, or your doctor.
If you are suicidal, or afraid you may become suicidal, seek help immediately.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). It's toll-free and available 24 hours a day, every day. Or call 911 or go to the emergency room — suicidal thoughts are an emergency.
Taking care of yourself
The good news is that you can take steps to prevent burnout. Try some of the suggestions from this list. You may not be able to do all of them — or do them all of the time. But making the effort will pay off.
Find community caregiving resources for your loved one. Whether you are seeking respite care, adult day care, or nutrition programs, tapping into local resources can relieve you of some caregiving burdens. To get started contact: Eldercare Locator, which can connect you to your local Area Agency on Aging and other resources
Family Care Navigator
Ask for and accept help. You can't do it all yourself. You just can't. Ask your spouse to help out. If your spouse is the one you're caring for, ask adult children, other family members, or even friends.
Stay in touch with friends and family. Social activities can help you feel connected and may reduce stress. Your friends and family may also notice burnout signs that you aren't aware of.
Find time to be physically active each week. With your jammed schedule, this may seem impossible, but it's important. Keep in mind that you don't need a solid block of time. Doing 10 minutes of physical activity throughout the day can add up and have health benefits. Depending on your loved one's abilities, you might try to do physical activity together. Going for a walk, dancing, or other physical movement will also help the older adult you care for.
Establish a regular routine. Find a system and schedule that works for you and stick to it as often as possible. Make a list if you need to. Knowing that a tidal wave of tasks isn't going to crash down on you can be a huge relief. It can also give you a better sense of control.
Look to faith-based groups for support and help. Participating in a religious community, if you choose, can be comforting. Most faith-based groups also have programs with people ready and willing to help.
Faith in Action brings together people of many faiths to help their neighbors in need.
Join a support group for caregivers in your situation (like caring for a person with dementia). Sometimes you just need to talk to people who've been there. You can share ideas and resources for coping. The
National Family Caregiver’s Association connects caregivers in their own cities and states and offers online support groups.
If you can afford to, get help. It doesn't even have to be a home health aid. Whether it's a cleaning service, grocery delivery, or someone to walk your dog, it's one less thing you have to do. Depending on your situation and where you live, you may be entitled to some free or low-cost services, such as transportation help and respite care. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to see what is available to you.
Take time for you. Make sure you do something for yourself every day. You could take a brief walk or a calming bath. Catch up with a friend over coffee. Take a power nap. Or just some take time to sit, listen to music, read, meditate, or just think. Try to find the time to pursue hobbies you enjoy.
Try to get enough sleep and rest. Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep increases the level of stress hormones in your body. This can sap your mood, energy, and health. The reality, however, is that many caregivers have problems sleeping due to stress or because they are needed to provide care during the night. Talk to your doctor if sleep problems are keeping you from feeling well-rested. If your sleep often is interrupted to provide care, look into overnight caregiving services so that you can get a full night’s sleep a few times a week. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to see what is available to you.
Eat healthy, well-balanced meals that are rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You've heard it before, but if you eat better, you really will feel and function better.
Take one day at a time. Stop asking yourself "what if." Don't obsess about all you have on your plate. It doesn't solve anything and it can be overwhelming.
More information on caregiver stress
Read more from womenshealth.gov
Caregiver Stress Fact Sheet — This fact sheet provides tips for relieving the stress of caregivers, as well as types of support that are available.
Explore other publications and websites
7 Tips to Help You to Help Your Parent with Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Coverage (Copyright © National Alliance for Caregiving)
— This guide provides seven easy-to-read tips on how to explain Medicare Part D to a loved one. Resources are also offered to caregivers for additional information on Medicare and eligibility.
Care for the Family Caregiver: A Place to Start (Copyright © National Alliance for Caregiving)
— This booklet is designed to give you an overview of the basic aspects and issues involved with caregiving. It provides basic information about many important and universal aspects of caregiving.
Caregiving and Depression (Copyright © Family Caregiver Alliance)
— This publication explains what depression is and why you may be at higher risk of depression if you are caring for a loved one with dementia. It also provides information on how depression is treated and how you can get help.
Caring for Someone (Copyright © Caring Connections)
— This site on caregiving provides an introduction to caregiving and includes information on preparing your home and providing both physical and comfort-related care. It also discusses the importance of caring for yourself and explains what services are available to help caregivers.
Caring for Someone After a Stroke (Copyright © American Heart Association)
— This fact sheet provides information on what a caregiver's role is when caring for someone who has had a stroke. It also provides information on where to go for help if you are feeling overwhelmed by your caregiving responsibilities.
Caring for Someone With Alzheimer's
— This publication provides information on caring for someone that has Alzheimer's disease. It provides care instructions for different settings, as well as safety and support issues to consider when caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease.
Eldercare at Home (Copyright © The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging)
— This online book provides detailed information on some of the common issues related to caregiving. Each chapter discusses either a physical, mental, or emotional problem and provides information on when to seek professional help. It also includes information on daily care management and planning for the future.
Evercare Study of Family Caregivers — What They Spend, What They Sacrifice (Copyright © National Alliance for Caregiving)
— This report explores the personal financial toll of taking care of a loved one on caregivers.
Improving Support for Families and Other Caregivers
— This site discusses ways in which we can improve caregiving for older adults with Alzheimer’s disease.
Medicare Basics: A Guide for Families and Friends of People With Medicare
— This brochure provides caregivers of Medicare recipients with general information on Medicare. It explains what Medicare is and what it covers. The brochure also provides information on seeking a second opinion, coverage options, and statements and bills.
National Family Caregiver Support Program
— This site provides information, assistance, and support to caregivers.
Resources for Caregivers 2007 (Copyright © National Alliance for Caregiving)
— This brochure is designed to help individuals and families who have assumed the role of caregiver or anticipate future caregiving. This brochure provides mailing addresses, phone numbers, and Internet addresses of national associations and organizations, plus a list of caregiver-related books, videos, and websites.
Connect with other organizations
Administration on Aging, HHS
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
Eldercare Locator, AoA, HHS
Family Caregiver Alliance
National Alliance for Caregiving
National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information, AOA, HHS
National Family Caregivers Association
National Institute on Aging, NIH, HHS
The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging