Caregivers care for someone with an illness, injury, or disability. Caregiving can be rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Stress from caregiving is common. Women especially are at risk for the harmful health effects of caregiver stress. These health problems may include depression or anxiety. There are ways to manage caregiver stress.
A caregiver is anyone who provides care for another person in need, such as a child, an aging parent, a husband or wife, a relative, friend, or neighbor. A caregiver also may be a paid professional who provides care in the home or at a place that is not the person's home.
People who are not paid to give care are called informal caregivers or family caregivers. This fact sheet focuses on family caregivers who provide care on a regular basis for a loved one with an injury, an illness such as dementia, or a disability. The family caregiver often has to manage the person's daily life. This can include helping with daily tasks like bathing, eating, or taking medicine. It can also include arranging activities and making health and financial decisions.
Most Americans will be informal caregivers at some point during their lives. A 2012 survey found that 36% of Americans provided unpaid care to another adult with an illness or disability in the past year.1 That percentage is expected to go up as the proportion of people in the United States who are elderly increases. Also, changes in health care mean family caregivers now provide more home-based medical care. Nearly half of family caregivers in the survey said they give injections or manage medicines daily.
Caregiver stress is due to the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. Caregivers report much higher levels of stress than people who are not caregivers. Many caregivers are providing help or are "on call" almost all day. Sometimes, this means there is little time for work or other family members or friends. Some caregivers may feel overwhelmed by the amount of care their aging, sick or disabled family member needs.3
Although caregiving can be very challenging, it also has its rewards. It feels good to be able to care for a loved one. Spending time together can give new meaning to your relationship.
Anyone can get caregiver stress, but more women caregivers say they have stress and other health problems than men caregivers.2 And some women have a higher risk for health problems from caregiver stress, including those who:
Women caregivers also may be less likely to get regular screenings, and they may not get enough sleep or regular physical activity.3
Caregiver stress can take many forms. For instance, you may feel frustrated and angry one minute and helpless the next. You may make mistakes when giving medicines. Or you may turn to unhealthy behaviors like smoking or drinking too much alcohol.6,7
Other signs and symptoms include:
Some stress can be good for you, as it helps you cope and respond to a change or challenge. But long-term stress of any kind, including caregiver stress, can lead to serious health problems.
Some of the ways stress affects caregivers include:
Taking steps to relieve caregiver stress helps prevent health problems. Also, taking care of yourself helps you take better care of your loved one and enjoy the rewards of caregiving.
Here are some tips to help you prevent or manage caregiver stress:
If you work outside the home and are feeling overwhelmed, consider taking a break from your job. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for relatives. Ask your human resources office about your options.
Caregiving services include:
Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies will cover some costs of home health care. Other costs you will have to pay for yourself.
If you or the person who needs caregiving also needs health insurance, learn about services covered under Marketplace plans at HealthCare.gov.
For more information about caregiver stress, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the additional reviews by:
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Page last updated: February 06, 2017.
Content last reviewed: January 25, 2015.