Caregivers are people who take care of other adults, most often parents or spouses, who are ill or disabled. The people who receive care usually need help with basic daily tasks. Caregivers help with many things such as:

Grocery shopping
House cleaning
Paying bills
Giving medicine

Usually caregivers take care of elderly people. Less often, caregivers are grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. The terms informal caregiver and family caregiver refer to people who are not paid to provide care. As the American population ages, the number of caregivers and the demands placed on them will grow.

Who are our nation's caregivers?
About one in four American families or 22.4 million households care for someone over the age of 50. The number of American households involved in caregiving may reach 39 million by 2007.

About 75% of caregivers are women.
Two-thirds of caregivers in the United States have jobs in addition to caring for another person.
Most caregivers are middle-aged: 35-64 years old.

What is caregiver stress?

Caregiver stress is the emotional strain of caregiving. Studies show that caregiving takes a toll on physical and emotional health. Caregivers are more likely to suffer from depression than their peers. Limited research suggests that caregivers may also be more likely to have health problems like diabetes and heart disease than non-caregivers.

Caring for another person takes a lot of time, effort, and work. Plus, most caregivers juggle caregiving with full-time jobs and parenting. In the process, caregivers put their own needs aside. Caregivers often report that it is difficult to look after their own health in terms of exercise, nutrition, and doctor's visits. So, caregivers often end up feeling angry, anxious, isolated, and sad.

Caregivers for people with Alzheimer's disease (AD) or other kinds of dementia are particularly vulnerable to burnout. Research shows that most dementia caregivers suffer from depression and stress. Also, studies show that the more hours spent on caregiving, the greater the risk of anxiety and depression.

Women caregivers are particularly prone to feeling stress and overwhelmed. Studies show that female caregivers have more emotional and physical health problems, employment-related problems, and financial strain than male caregivers. Other research shows that people who care for their spouses are more prone to caregiving-related stress than those who care for other family members.

It is important to note that caring for another person can also create positive emotional change. Aside from feeling stress, many caregivers say their role has had many positive effects on their lives. For example, caregivers report that caregiving has given them a sense of purpose. They say that their role makes them feel useful, capable and that they are making a difference in the life of a loved one.

How can I tell if caregiving is putting too much stress on me?

If you have any of the following symptoms, caregiving may be putting too much strain on you:

Sleeping problems — sleeping too much or too little
Change in eating habits — resulting in weight gain or loss
Feeling tired or without energy most of the time
Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy such as going out with friends, walking, or reading
Easily irritated, angered, or saddened
Frequent headaches, stomach aches, or other physical problems
What can I do to prevent or relieve stress?
Take care of yourself. In the process, you'll become a better caregiver. Take the following steps to make YOUR health a priority:

Find out about community caregiving resources.
Ask for and accept help.
Stay in touch with friends and family. Social activities can help you feel connected and may reduce stress.
Find time for exercise most days of the week.
Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine.
Look to faith-based groups for support and help.
Join a support group for caregivers in your situation (like caring for a person with dementia). Many support groups can be found in the community or on the Internet.
See your doctor for a checkup. Talk to her about symptoms of depression or sickness you may be having.
Try to get enough sleep and rest.
Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in saturated fat.
Ask your doctor about taking a multivitamin.
Take one day at a time.

Caregivers who work outside the home should consider taking some time off. If you are feeling overwhelmed, taking a break from your job may help you get back on track. 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.

Many products are available to help caregivers at