Chapter VI

Caring for Caregivers

and their Families

Part VI:    Caring for Caregivers


There’s no question that caring for an elderly loved one offers enormous rewards, deepening the lifelong love between generations. But caregiving often requires some element of sacrifice as well, pulling caregivers in many directions, with overwhelming demands on their limited time.

A caregiver’s role may include physically taking care of the family member, as well as serving as medical coordinator, personal assistant, bookkeeper, housekeeper, shopper and driver. Juggling such caregiving with the responsibilities of managing a family and job frequently leaves caregivers reeling from stress, struggling with too many demands in their limited time.

Such stress frequently results in fatigue, but it can also lead to more adverse health conditions. Caregiving can take a physical toll, such as back injuries from constantly lifting a frail senior out of bed or a chair. And new research is increasingly linking caregiver stress to the weakening of a person’s immune system and depression.

Caregivers also should be aware that the daily impact of this onerous (and unpaid) job can stir a cauldron of emotions:

Sadness and grief. Witnessing the decline of a parent or spouse can be difficult to watch, especially as you try to hold on to vivid memories of the vital person they once were.

Anxiety and fear. You question what the future holds, wondering, “Can we afford this? Where do I get help?”

Anger. Despite your devotion, you may feel angry toward your loved one for “putting you” in the role of caregiver—or angry toward other family members for not helping out as much as you think they should.

Guilt. You may feel guilty for an assortment of reasons—for example, that you’re “not doing enough” to make your loved ones happier or to improve their situation. Or maybe you feel guilty for neglecting your own children and spouse—or for enjoying your time away from caregiving responsibilities.

All these factors leave many caregivers in a precarious state. A recent study found that:

  • Half of all caregivers feel that the burden of caregiving is “frequently” or “sometimes” too much to handle.
  • More than half (55%) of caregivers feel isolated.
  • More than one in five (22%) have been told by a health professional in the last 12 months that they suffer from depression, nearly twice the rate in the general population.
  • Overall, 39% of caregivers report needing respite care within the past 12 months—but only half that number say they’ve received it.
  • What, then, should caregivers do to lessen stress and avoid “burnout”—and be a better caregiver as a result?

First, watch for early warning signs of caregiver burnout. Among the symptoms, experts say, are:

  • chronic fatigue
  • persistent irritability or sadness
  • sleeplessness or depression
  • difficulty concentrating.
  • frequent headaches or gastrointestinal problems
  • weight loss or gain
  • loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities

This resource provides a Caregiver Health Self-assessment Questionnaire:

Second, take care of yourself, the caregiver. Remember the instructions given to airline passengers when the cabin pressure drops: Put your own oxygen mask on first—before you try to help those around you. As a caregiver, it’s easy to forget about your own needs. But over the long term, you can’t sustain good care for your loved one if you’re not taking good care of yourself.

Here is a checklist of 7 important guidelines:


Here is a listing of some caregiver support groups and services:


Respite care is short-term care provided by a trained companion in order to give family caregivers temporary relief from their responsibilities. This allows caregivers to have a short break so that they can do tasks outside the home, while feeling that their loved one is safe.

Respite services are provided in a senior’s home or in a supervised environment, and may include companionship, meals, minimal assist with personal care and medication reminders.

Counties and other organizations have programs that provide respite care at reasonable costs.

Many social model adult day care programs provide respite and for caregivers, and assisted living facilities frequently offer respite care for families who may need a place for their loved one to stay for an extended period. (Medicare does not pay for respite care. Private pay, and at some facilities, Medicaid, are accepted.)

Here are some resources for locating respite services:


Here are several websites that feature information focused on caregiver support:


Here is a list of local social service organizations:


Here is a list of state, county & local government agencies: