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My Journey to Being a Caregiver, Essay Example

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As I was growing, I had always contemplated what I would be when I will grow up. This question really bothered me during my childhood and I was only five years, I was determined to remain at home and raise young people, like what my mother did. I was determined to be the best caretaker. Nevertheless, as I grew up that dream changed, and all through my lifetime I have had several dreams concerning my future; like become a music icon, lawyer, creating a hilarity park, and writing storybooks. It was eventually when I entered high school that I recognized I had liked working with, and the idea of taking care of young children; and what I truthfully desired to do the rest of my life was to teaching mentally disabled children (Ysseldyke & Algozzine 49).

My career goal that I have slowly been putting efforts all through my four years in college is to become a special education teacher in-charge of elementary learners. I am presently signed up as a double elementary major in early childhood and elementary education, as well as psychology in college. I believe these courses will give the needed platform to achieve my career goals. I have pursued a number of pre-requisite classes, and many courses specifically tailored for elementary education. The courses are important since they will allow me to be taught by real elementary school educators that have many years’ experiences with working with kids. I believe that the educators will equip me with the necessary skills and advice to better me towards understanding what I was signing up for as an education major (Mamlin 24). The classes will enable me to articulate my skills in a manner that will be understandable to learners of tender age. In addition, I am doubling majoring in psychology in anticipation that they will help me teach the learners in a manner that they will I understand the mentality regarding special education learners. The classes will slowly shape my skills and knowledge. I believe that the psychology classes will offer me adequate context on not only the challenges and disorders a number of children all through the globe are experiencing now; however, too on the way learners, as well as their parents tend to perceive and handle mentally disabled children in the society. The different courses will help me learn how effectively handle particular children having definite disorders that I hope will assist me better communicate ,and teach kids having mental disabilities in a manner that they will best be capable to comprehend and grab information  being imparted to them. Being an elementary education plus psychology major will assist me to radically boost my teaching capacities will allow me to have better idea of what I could most probably be experiencing in the future when I will realize my career goals , and overall prepare me in nearly every was feasible to be a great educator.

Furthermore, I have usually had the heart for kids , and for individuals that are less fortunate than the way I am, as well as face more challenges than any one individual must have to experience in a lifetime; thus, I am drawn to kids having disabilities. In the society currently, those having mental disabilities tend to be abandoned and despised, not only physically; however, mentally. I believe that becoming a special education instructor for children will allow me to educate learners, which are regularly times despised intellectually by the community. I would love to become an educator that that can offer these students with mental disorders the care and support they deserve, patience, and hope that this will allow these children to believe in themselves. This will allow them to face future challenges with hope and courage. Physically and mentally disabled kids are simply ignored as candidates for educational programs. My anticipations are that whilst educating them , I will be in a position to open up a number of prospects of higher educational programs , and ultimately boost job prospects for the mentally challenged kids; consequently that the community may no longer despise them intellectually (Mamlin 24). Providing care is also beneficial to care giver. Having known that you are touching lives of people and transforming their lives can be very emotionally fulfilling. In fact, it can improve the way one relates with other people. This mean I will not only relate well with my student, but I will develop good relationship with my family. I am happy about this.

In addition, I understand that being a caretaker is challenging both emotionally and physically. I know this role is difficult it consume a lot of time and can be bad to my health. This is why I will also prioritize on self-care. If you cannot take care of yourself, how can you take care of others? I will ensure that I eat regular nutritious meals. I will always ensure that I prepare healthy meals at home to avoid eating fast food from vending machine. Being a caretaker for children with medical problems means that I may be required to interact regularly with doctors for them. I will take this opportunity to also maintain my doctor’s time. What this means is that I will maintain regular scheduled check up with the doctor and stay on top of my wellness. According to (Mamlin 24) ensuring, a personal time is very important to maintaining good and health relationship with people you care for. For me, I will also ensure that I plan for my personal time.

As I have mentioned above, I will plan for my personal time. In order to ensure that I do not feel guilty leaving the people that I am caring for alone while am having my personal time, I will build a strong caring team. Caring team is very important. This is because as a caregiver I cannot be everywhere at all times. Sometime the number of people or children that will require my care may increase. Therefore, for me to schedule for personal time and ensure that the people who need me are cared for correctly I will build a team. My experience has taught me the importance of delegating tasks. I will be able to delegate some task to the team to help me feel some time for myself.

Since I was young, I always want to do my things in an organized way. I will also ensure that I am very organized in order to provide the care. When caring for people with medical condition, it is important to understand all the people who need the care. I will keep all the information of all those who will be under me. Some children with disability might be taking medicine on regular basis, or might require seeing doctor several times per week. I will organize such information for me to remember easily. I will set a system of doing things that I will ensure all my teammate understand. When other team member know the system it is easy for them to provide important information of the people requiring care when I am not around.

My experience has taught me that, when caring for children with disability, it is possible for someone to be attached emotionally to some person that you are caring for. This is bad because when something goes wrong about that person, it also affect you. It is told that one should understand sometime it is impossible to prevent bad thing from occurring to people we are teaching or caring for. When such things occur, people should comfort themself that they at least tried to make a difference to those peoples life. One thing to remember is that no matter the outcome there will always be another person waiting for his or her help. One needs to connect with the people receiving care, at the same time one need not to be emotionally connected. Nevertheless, sometime this is not easy. That is why I will take my psychology class to help me cope with such situation. Again talking to someone who understands such things can help. Therefore, I will also keep in touch with relevant people such as my fellow caregivers who have more experience than I do.

Finally, since the time I was a child, I have in most cases doubted what I want to be when I grow up. This primary question kept pushing me in everything I did in my life. My life experiences in the world have not only assisted me with making key decisions to become well-equipped and successful teacher for children having mental disorders, but they have shaped me to become a great teacher. I have known that one should become a caregiver because they care. The journey of becoming a good caregiver may be long, difficult, and frustrating. In addition, I know that one should not seek journey alone. It is important to accept help when it is available, seek for help when it is needed. Most importantly maintain your own self-wellness. Although the body may not be sick, being a caregiver one face unexpected and some time overlooked challenges. Remember that, caregivers also need emotional support very much. Equip yourself with necessary skills and surround yourself with the right people. I am presently working towards my career goals in my current college, and I hope that the programs at the college and my prospect experiences will offer me with the understanding, as well as education I require to attain my dream (O’Connor 108).

Works Cited

Algozzine, Bob, and Jim Ysseldyke. Effective Instruction for Students with Special Needs: A Practical Guide for Every Teacher . Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press, 2006. Print.

Mamlin, Nancy. Preparing Effective Special Education Teachers . New York: Guilford Press, 2012. Print.

O’Connor, Rollanda E. Teaching Word Recognition: Effective Strategies for Students with Learning Difficulties , 2014. Print.

Ysseldyke, James E, and Robert Algozzine. Effective Assessment for Students with Special Needs: A Practical Guide for Every Teacher. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2006. Print.

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Caregiving 101: On Being a Caregiver

By Donna Schempp, LCSW

To listen to this fact sheet, click the links below.

Part 1: On Being a Caregiver

Part 2: The ‘IRS of Caregiving’: Information, Respite, and Support

Caregiving often creeps up on you. You start by dropping by your mom’s house and doing her laundry, or taking your dad to a doctor’s appointment. You find yourself doing the grocery shopping and refilling prescriptions. Gradually, you are doing more and more. At some point, you realize you have made a commitment to take care of someone else.

Sometimes, caregiving is triggered by a major health event, such as a stroke, heart attack, or accident. Maybe you suddenly realize that dad’s memory lapses have become dangerous. Life as you know it stops, and all your energy goes to caring for your loved one. Caregiving has become your new career, and you adjust to a new normal.

The Caregiver Role

Caregivers can be spouses, partners, adult children, parents, other relatives (siblings, aunts, nieces/nephews, in-laws, grandchildren), friends, neighbors. Whatever your relationship with the person you’re caring for, it’s important that you add the title caregiver to the list of things you are. Without identifying yourself as a caregiver, you won’t know to search for resources that can help you navigate this new role.   But caregivers play other roles as well. You may be employed full or part-time. You may be raising children, or be a volunteer, a spouse, have other family commitments. Adding caregiving to that list can easily lead to frustration and exhaustion. You might need to navigate social service systems, call doctors while you’re at work, advocate for the care receiver, and take care of their day-to-day needs, while you try to do all of those same things for yourself and your family.

You are rarely trained to do the broad range of tasks you are asked to do as a caregiver. As a result, you may end up, for example, with back strain because you haven’t had the benefit of training from a physical therapist on how to correctly transfer someone from bed to chair, or wheelchair to car. Or you find yourself battling with your mother who has Alzheimer’s because you have not learned the skills necessary to communicate with someone with a cognitive impairment.

Here are some of the common tasks caregivers do:

  • Buy groceries, cook, clean house, do laundry, provide transportation
  • Help the care receiver get dressed, take a shower, take medicine
  • Transfer someone out of bed/chair, help with physical therapy, perform medical interventions—injections, feeding tubes, wound treatment, breathing treatments
  • Arrange medical appointments, drive to the doctor, sit in during appointments, monitor medications
  • Talk with doctors, nurses, care managers, and others to understand what needs to be done
  • Spend time handling crises and arranging for assistance—especially for someone who cannot be left alone
  • Handle finances and other legal matters
  • Be a companion
  • Be a (usually) unpaid aide, on call 24/7

What are all the things you do? Try making a list, both for your own clarification and for other family members who may not be aware of your efforts.

First Steps for New Caregivers

  • It’s easy to become overwhelmed as a new caregiver. Here are some steps that can help:
  • Identify yourself as a caregiver
  • Get a good diagnosis—from a specialist or geriatrician if necessary—of your loved one’s health condition
  • Learn what specific skills you might need to care for someone with this diagnosis (Caring for someone with Frontotemporal dementia, for example, is different from caring for someone with chronic heart disease)
  • Talk about finances and healthcare wishes
  • Complete legal paperwork, e.g., Powers of Attorney, Advance Directives
  • Bring family and friends together to discuss care
  • Keep them up to date on the current situation
  • Identify resources, both personal and in the community
  • Find support for yourself and your loved one
  • Remember, you are not alone

Keys to Caring for Yourself

It‘s one thing to gear up for a short-term crisis. But it takes different skills to provide care over a longer period of time. You’ll be more successful if you learn to take care of yourself, starting immediately. Some things to remember:

  • You cannot be perfect
  • You have a right to all of your emotions (See FCA Fact Sheet Emotional Side of Caregiving . )
  • Depression is the most common emotion of long-term caregivers
  • Set realistic expectations—for yourself and your loved one
  • Learn about the disease and what you can expect
  • Learn the skills you need to care for the care receiver and which ones you are or are not able to perform
  • Learn to say “no” to things you cannot do
  • Learn to accept help from others
  • Build resilience
  • Identify your button-pushers/stressors
  • Identify your coping skills
  • Eat right —good nutrition as opposed to stress-snacking. Limit alcohol and other drugs
  • Exercise —it may be hard to find time but it’s the best cure for depression and increases your endorphins (“good” coping hormones)
  • Sleep —7-8 hours is hard to get, but essential. Admit when you are experiencing burnout and get help

Most importantly, remember that taking care of yourself is as important as taking care of someone else.    

The ‘IRS of Caregiving’: Information, Respite, and Support


The first stages of caregiving are the most challenging. This is when you are least informed about what’s needed and expected, and when you feel the most insecure and uncertain.

  • In addition to information about the disease/disability your loved one is dealing with, you need to understand his or her medications and medical interventions. (See FCA Fact Sheet Caregivers Guide to Medications and Aging .)
  • Feed, bathe, groom, or dress someone?
  • Handle toileting or deal with incontinence?
  •  Handle a complicated medication schedule?
  • Transfer someone or help them walk?
  • How does this disease progress and how will that effect the care receiver’s ability to take care of him or herself?
  • What are the care needs now and what are they likely to be in the future?
  • What are the physical limitations that the care receiver has now or will have?
  • Are there predictable behavioral changes that go along with them?
  • How do I handle these changes?
  • If you are caring for someone with dementia, for instance, you need to learn the strategies for communication that will make you more successful and increase cooperation.
  • How much money is available to help with care?
  • Who can access it (is there a Financial Power of Attorney in place)?
  • Are there debts or other constraints on using the money?
  • Is there a Will? A Trust?
  • Has the Medical Power of Attorney been completed (also called Living Will)? (See FCA Tip Sheet, Advanced Health Care Directives and POLST .)
  • Do you have a Release of Information signed and filed with the care receiver’s doctor(s)?    

You might not be aware of community caregiving resources, but they are there to help you. You can find help in most communities for transportation, home delivered meals, day care programs, home repairs, and more. To learn about them, contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) and find out what’s available locally—not only for your loved one, but also for yourself. (In many communities, AAAs can be reached by dialing 211). There may be benefits that you haven’t thought about—ask about Title IIIE funding, part of the Older Americans Act specifically for caregivers. There may be Veterans benefits. Other benefits can be found at Eldercare Locator, or FCA’s Family Care Navigator.

Caregiving is often a 24/7 job, and everyone needs a break sometimes. Getting away can give you perspective and remind you that there’s a world outside. Taking a respite break from caregiving can give you a chance to connect with others, share, laugh, catch up, renew. But it can also be a time for just doing things that are relaxing for you, such as reading a book without interruption, taking a nap, or going for a walk. This break is a necessary step in taking care of yourself so that you can care for someone else.

Respite can take many forms, from going away on a mini-vacation, to having someone in your home for a few hours so you can run errands or get to the doctor yourself. A local adult day care program may offer enough hours of care—including transportation—so that you can go to work or attend to your other needs and interests. Some residential facilities also offer temporary respite. There may be funds available through your Area Agency on Aging as well as organizations in your community that can help you to get the break you need (also available through the Veteran’s Administration for those eligible). Faith communities, disease-specific organizations and your network of friends might be able to help.

At first, it may not feel easy to take a respite break. First, there is our own internal reluctance to leave a loved one, particularly if he or she feels abandoned if you leave. Or there is the fear that something will happen while you’re away and only you know how to care for him or her correctly. You might feel guilty and not be sure you have the right to have a good time if your loved one is suffering. You may be concerned about the cost. But remember, you must care for yourself, too.

You can’t do it alone! And, like respite, getting support for your caregiving situation will help you take better care of yourself. The longer you are a caregiver, the more isolated you can become. How many times can you say, “I can’t get together with you” before people stop calling? But this lack of social interaction will lead to poorer health for you. One reason caregivers don’t get the help they need is that taking care of yourself feels like just “one more thing you have to do.”

But we all need someone to talk to. Special caregiver support groups in your community or online can help to reduce the feeling that you’re all alone and help you learn coping skills from others who are in similar situations. (See FCA Fact Sheet Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers .)

Adding stress to an already difficult situation, caregiving can also create family discord, particularly if you feel you’re not getting the help and support you need from members of your own family. Resentment can build on all sides. If you are dealing with family conflict, it might help to have a meeting. (See FCA Fact Sheets Holding a Family Meeting and Caregiving with Your Siblings .)  

Asking for Help

Most of us find it hard to ask for help. About 50% of caregivers get no outside help at all. When someone asks if there’s anything they can do to help, most of us usually say, “Oh no, that’s OK, we’re doing fine.” When you’re a caregiver, it can be even harder. Whom can you call and what can you ask them to do? Learning to accept help early in your transition to being a caregiver will make it easier down the road.

Little things on a regular basis can mean a lot. Maybe someone would bring an occasional meal or dessert. Having someone help with household chores can be an opportunity to socialize as well as get things done. Maybe someone can just come and sit with your loved one so you can run to the grocery store. Make a list of things that you need help with. Post it on the refrigerator. If someone asks to help, show them the list and let them pick something they’d like to do. That way they’re more likely to enjoy the task. If you know a friend enjoys cooking but dislikes driving, your chances of getting help improve if you ask for help with meal prep instead of a ride to an appointment.

Taking Care of YOU

Caregiving has many challenges and also many rewards. But you need to honor your own needs as well as commit to caring for someone else. That’s the only way you will be able to sustain your patience and your caring and be successful over time. There are many things to learn and most caregivers are just “making it up” as they go along. Getting information and training will help you feel confident about the many tasks you perform. Information is available online, at disease-specific websites, at Family Caregiver Alliance, through your medical providers, Area Agencies on Aging, some employee assistance programs, support groups, senior centers, and your community. Start with saying “I am a caregiver and I need help.”

Family Caregiver Alliance National Center on Caregiving (415) 434-3388 | (800) 445-8106 Website: www.caregiver.org E-mail: [email protected] CareNav:  https://fca.cacrc.org/login Services by State:  https://www.caregiver.org/connecting-caregivers/services-by-state

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) seeks to improve the quality of life for caregivers through education, services, research, and advocacy.

Through its National Center on Caregiving, FCA offers information on current social, public policy, and caregiving issues and provides assistance in the development of public and private programs for caregivers.

For residents of the greater San Francisco Bay Area, FCA provides direct support services for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s, and other debilitating health conditions that strike adults.

ElderCare Locator A public service of the Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, eldercare.acl.gov .

This fact sheet was prepared by Donna Schempp, LCSW, and reviewed by Family Caregiver Alliance. Funded by the California Department of Health Care Services. © 2016 Family Caregiver Alliance. All rights reserved.


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105 Caregiver Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

Inside This Article

Caregiving is a challenging yet rewarding role that requires compassion, patience, and empathy. Whether you are studying healthcare, psychology, or social work, writing an essay on caregiver-related topics can help you deepen your understanding of this vital profession. To help you get started, here are 105 caregiver essay topic ideas and examples:

  • The importance of self-care for caregivers: Strategies and challenges.
  • Understanding caregiver burnout: Causes, symptoms, and prevention.
  • The impact of COVID-19 on caregivers: Lessons learned.
  • Cultural differences in caregiving: A comparative analysis.
  • The role of technology in supporting caregivers.
  • The emotional toll of caring for a loved one with dementia.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on mental health.
  • Balancing caregiving responsibilities with work and personal life.
  • The ethical considerations of end-of-life caregiving.
  • The gender disparities in the caregiving profession.
  • The role of spirituality in caregiving.
  • The challenges faced by young caregivers: Coping mechanisms and support.
  • The impact of long-distance caregiving on families.
  • The importance of communication skills for caregivers.
  • The impact of caregiver support groups on mental health.
  • The role of respite care in alleviating caregiver stress.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with disabilities.
  • The impact of caregiver guilt and its effects on well-being.
  • The financial burden of caregiving: Access to resources and support.
  • The role of art therapy in supporting caregivers' emotional well-being.
  • The impact of caregiver burden on physical health.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with chronic illnesses.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on cognitive functioning.
  • The benefits of music therapy for caregivers and care recipients.
  • The role of mindfulness practices in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver support programs on job satisfaction.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of veterans: Unique needs and resources.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on the immune system.
  • The benefits of pet therapy for caregivers and care recipients.
  • The role of palliative care in supporting caregivers.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with mental illnesses.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on sleep quality.
  • The benefits of exercise for caregivers: Physical and mental well-being.
  • The role of humor in coping with caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on decision-making abilities.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with substance abuse issues.
  • The benefits of aromatherapy for caregivers and care recipients.
  • The role of support animals in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on cardiovascular health.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities.
  • The benefits of journaling for caregivers: Emotional release and self-reflection.
  • The role of occupational therapy in supporting caregivers.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on social relationships.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer's disease.
  • The benefits of nature therapy for caregivers and care recipients.
  • The role of support networks in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on cognitive decline.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with cancer.
  • The benefits of massage therapy for caregivers: Relaxation and stress reduction.
  • The role of technology in monitoring and supporting caregivers.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on parenting abilities.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with autism.
  • The benefits of laughter therapy for caregivers and care recipients.
  • The role of support hotlines in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on memory.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with spinal cord injuries.
  • The benefits of acupuncture for caregivers: Pain relief and relaxation.
  • The role of telemedicine in supporting caregivers.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on empathy.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with Parkinson's disease.
  • The benefits of yoga for caregivers: Mind-body connection and stress reduction.
  • The role of support apps in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on compassion fatigue.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with terminal illnesses.
  • The benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction programs for caregivers.
  • The role of nutrition in supporting caregivers' physical health.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on job performance.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with traumatic brain injuries.
  • The benefits of guided imagery for caregivers: Relaxation and visualization.
  • The role of support websites in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on emotional intelligence.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with multiple sclerosis.
  • The benefits of cognitive-behavioral therapy for caregivers: Coping skills and resilience.
  • The role of support groups in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on compassion satisfaction.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with intellectual disabilities.
  • The benefits of mindfulness meditation for caregivers: Stress reduction and emotional well-being.
  • The role of respite care centers in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on empathy towards other patients.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with traumatic injuries.
  • The benefits of relaxation techniques for caregivers: Calming the mind and body.
  • The role of support helplines in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on empathy towards healthcare professionals.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with chronic pain.
  • The benefits of sleep hygiene for caregivers: Rest and rejuvenation.
  • The role of support apps in connecting caregivers with resources.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on the quality of care provided.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with rare diseases.
  • The benefits of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for caregivers: Emotional regulation and well-being.
  • The role of community centers in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on patient outcomes.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with mental health disorders.
  • The benefits of guided breathing exercises for caregivers: Stress reduction and relaxation.
  • The role of technology in connecting caregivers with support networks.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on healthcare utilization.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with eating disorders.
  • The benefits of progressive muscle relaxation for caregivers: Tension release and calmness.
  • The role of home care agencies in reducing caregiver stress.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on healthcare costs.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with addiction.
  • The benefits of visualization exercises for caregivers: Creating a positive mindset.
  • The role of caregiver support programs in reducing hospital readmissions.
  • The impact of caregiver stress on patient satisfaction.
  • The challenges faced by caregivers of individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • The benefits of laughter yoga for caregivers: Joy, connection, and stress reduction.

These essay topic ideas provide a wide range of options to explore the multifaceted aspects of caregiving. Remember to choose a topic that resonates with your interests and aligns with your academic goals. Good luck with your caregiver essay!

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Committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults; Board on Health Care Services; Health and Medicine Division; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Schulz R, Eden J, editors. Families Caring for an Aging America. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2016 Nov 8.

Cover of Families Caring for an Aging America

Families Caring for an Aging America.

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3 Family Caregiving Roles and Impacts

This chapter examines the multiple and evolving roles of caregivers of older adults and the impact of assuming these roles on caregivers' health and well-being. It describes caregiver tasks, the dynamic nature of caregiving over time, the increasing complexity and scope of caregiver responsibilities, and issues involved in surrogate decision making. Family caregiving is more intensive, complex, and long lasting than in the past and caregivers rarely receive adequate preparation for their role. A compelling body of evidence suggests that many caregivers experience negative psychological effects. Some caregivers are at higher risk than others, especially those who spend long hours caring for older adults with advanced dementia. Caregivers should have access to high-quality, evidence-based interventions designed to mitigate or prevent adverse health effects.

As a society, we have always depended on families to provide emotional support, and to assist their older parents, grandparents, and other family members when they can no longer function independently. This chapter examines the multiple and evolving roles of family caregivers of older adults and the impact of assuming these roles on caregivers' health and well-being. It describes the trajectory and dynamic nature of caregiving over time, the increasing complexity and scope of caregiver responsibilities including the issues involved in family caregivers' role as surrogate decision makers, and the evidence on the impact of caregiving on the health and well-being of caregivers of older adults.

The chapter reviews an extensive literature on family caregiving of older adults. It also draws from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS) and its companion the National Study of Caregiving (NSOC), two linked federally funded surveys designed to document how functioning changes with age, the role of the family caregivers identified by the NHATS respondents who live independently or in a senior community, assisted living facility, or other residential setting ( Kasper et al., 2014 ). Family caregivers of nursing home residents are not included in NSOC. The committee distinguished between two subgroups of NSOC family caregivers: those who help an older adult because of health or functioning reasons and those caregivers who help “high-need” older adults. “High-need” refers to family caregivers of individuals who have probable dementia or who need help with at least two self-care activities (i.e., bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, or getting in and out of bed). See Chapter 2 and Appendix E for further information about the surveys and the committee's analyses of the publicly available survey datasets.


Despite many common experiences, caregivers' roles are highly variable across the course of caregiving. The diversity of families, the timing of entry into the caregiving role, the duration of the role in relation to the overall life course of the caregiver, and transitions in care experienced over time all shape the nature of the caregiving role. The committee conceptualized caregiving over time as “caregiving trajectories” to highlight the dynamic nature of the role and the different directions it can take. Caregiving trajectories include transitions in both the care needs of the older adult and in the settings in which care is provided ( Gitlin and Wolff, 2012 ).

In populations in which the care recipients become increasingly impaired over time, such as with increasing frailty, dementia, Parkinson's disease, or advanced cancer, the caregiving role expands accordingly. In populations in which care recipients experience short-term or episodic periods of disability, such as early-stage cancer and heart failure, the caregiving role may be short term but intense or it may wax and wane over time. Entry into the caregiving role is similarly variable. Individuals may take on the caregiving role as they gradually recognize a care recipient's need for assistance—when an individual has difficulty balancing a checkbook, for example—or they may suddenly plunge into the caregiving role in the context of a crisis such as an unexpected life-threatening diagnosis, stroke, hip fracture, or other catastrophic event.

Caregiving for older adults occurs across all the settings in which care is delivered and often involves interacting with numerous providers, back- and-forth transitions from hospital to home or rehabilitation facility, move to a senior residence or assisted living facility, placement in a nursing home, and ultimately end-of-life care. These transitions and role changes, along with the health and functional status of the care recipient, affect the social, physical, and emotional health of the caregiver over time ( Carpentier et al., 2010 ; Cavaye, 2008 ; Gibbons et al., 2014 ; Peacock et al., 2014 ; Penrod et al., 2011 , 2012 ; Schulz and Tompkins, 2010).

A caregiving episode can be defined both in terms of duration and intensity (i.e., the number of hours spent daily, weekly, or monthly to provide needed care to an older adult). As noted in Chapter 2 , 15 percent of caregivers had provided care for 1 year or less by the time of the survey, and an equal percentage had provided care for more than 10 years. 1 The remaining 70 percent fell between these two extremes. The median number of years of caregiving for high-need older adults (i.e., who had probable dementia or needed help with two or more self-care activities) was 4 years; 2 it was 5 years if the care recipient had dementia and also needed help with two or more self-care activities. As might be expected, the intensity of caregiving varies with the older adult's level of impairment. Caregivers providing assistance only with household activities spend an average of 85 hours per month providing care while those who care for an older adult with three or more self-care or mobility needs spend 253 hours per month ( Freedman and Spillman, 2014 ), equivalent to nearly two full-time jobs.

Individuals do not provide caregiving in isolation from the other roles and responsibilities in their lives. Their personal lives—as spouse or partner, parent, employee, business owner, community member—intersect with caregiving in different ways at different times. Under ideal circumstances, the caregiver is able to balance the responsibilities and rewards of competing roles such as caring for a child or working for pay and their caregiving responsibilities. However, accumulating caregiving demands and the costs of long-term services and supports (LTSS) can overwhelm and undermine other dimensions of one's life. Additional complexity in trajectories arises when family members disagree about the type of care needed and how it should be provided ( Dilworth-Anderson et al., 2002 ), or when family roles and responsibilities shift over time. Appendixes F and G relate the experiences of several family caregivers: a husband, daughter, and family caring for older adults with advanced Alzheimer's disease and a wife helping to provide complex cancer treatment to her husband in a rural area.

Phases in the Caregiving Trajectory

Although the caregiving role is highly variable over time, different phases in the caregiving trajectory can be discerned when the role is considered longitudinally. For example, caregiving may follow a trajectory reflecting increasing care responsibilities punctuated by episodic events such as hospitalizations and placement in rehabilitation or long-term care facilities. Figure 3-1 shows how caregiving for persons with dementia typically follows a relatively linear trajectory driven by the progressive cognitive and functional decline of the care recipient. The trajectory begins with emerging awareness of the caregiver that there is a problem. Over time this evolves into increasing care needs as the care recipient requires assistance with household tasks and then self-care tasks. End-of-life care may involve placement into a long-term care facility or enrollment in a hospice program. Note that the tasks required of the caregiver are cumulative over time. Each phase of the trajectory brings with it new challenges that the caregiver must confront.

An example of a dementia care trajectory. NOTE: CG = caregiving. SOURCES: Adapted from Gitlin and Schulz (2012) and Schulz and Tompkins (2010).

For stroke caregivers, the trajectory may begin with sudden intensity, gradually decrease as the older adult regains function, and then remain relatively stable over a long period of time (perhaps punctuated by short-term acute illnesses or set-backs). Alternatively, caregiving may gradually increase with stroke complications, recurrence, or new comorbid conditions. Transitions in the caregiving trajectory may be planned, as in the transitions from hospital to skilled rehabilitation facility to home, or they may be unplanned, as in an emergency room visit and rehospitalization ( McLennon et al., 2014 ).

The caregiving trajectory in the cancer population tends to be nonlinear. It is often characterized by the rapidity with which caregivers have to take on the role as treatment decisions are made and treatment begins. As the cancer experience unfolds, caregiving transitions may occur in rapid succession, each having its own learning curve in movement from one treatment modality to the next (e.g., from post-operative recovery at home to beginning radiation or chemotherapy). Transitions among care settings also occur unpredictably. For example, transitions from home to emergency room to hospital are unpredictable but not uncommon. Moreover, the functional abilities of older adults with cancer may fluctuate rapidly, resulting in intense but short periods of caregiving. Rapid transitions in the caregiving role may occur in the context of advanced cancer as well, as the care recipient moves from management of advanced cancer symptoms (e.g., pain, sleep disturbance, and lack of appetite) through a succession of changes in functional status and self-care ability, leading ultimately to end-of-life care and bereavement. The rapid succession of caregiving transitions, some of which may occur with little warning, challenge caregivers' ability to provide care, as ability during one phase of the caregiving trajectory may or may not be sufficient to meet the demands of the next phase.

These are just a few of the varied trajectories associated with three common late-life illnesses. Each disease brings with it a unique pattern of unfolding needs that the caregiver must address. However, when considered over the long term, typical phases in caregiving trajectories can be discerned, as depicted in Figure 3-1 . These phases are described below, with the caveat that they are not necessarily linear ( Gitlin and Schulz, 2012 ; Gitlin and Wolff, 2012 ; Schulz and Tompkins, 2010).

This phase includes recognition and increasing awareness within the older adult's social network of disabilities, changes in health, and/or behavioral change that signal the need for some level of caregiving. The older adult may downplay the need for care during this phase because of their concerns about becoming a burden to others ( Cahill et al., 2009 ). Awareness of functional impairment can come on gradually, as in the case of someone with slowly progressive dementia, or suddenly as in the case of someone who has suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury. With awareness that one is becoming a caregiver comes an array of daunting questions about how to meet the needs of the care recipient. How long will these needs, which may become increasingly more complex, have to be met and what will it take to meet these needs? How much family involvement will be necessary and how will caregiving roles within the family or broader social network be negotiated? What are the risks, costs, and benefits to whom over time? How much time will be involved in meeting these needs and how much involvement will be necessary? If paid help is needed to supplement family care, how much will it cost and can the family afford it? How can care needs be met in relationship to cultural norms and expectation?

In response to this awareness of need for caregiving on the part of the older adult and/or family members, one or more family members typically emerge as the caregivers. Who ends up being a caregiver within a family is often shaped by existing relationships, gender roles, cultural norms and expectations, and geographic proximity as well as a host of other factors ( Cavaye, 2008 ). For example, African American caregivers are more likely to be non-spouses compared with white, non-Hispanic caregivers ( NAC and AARP Public Policy Institute, 2009 ; Pinquart and Sörenson, 2005 ). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are more likely to care or be cared for by a non-relative than non-LGBT individuals ( Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2011 ). Ultimately, one or more family members may take on the caregiving role and its varied responsibilities.

Unfolding Responsibility

As caregivers move into their role, they may experience role ambiguity, a redefining of their relationships with the care recipient and others, and may perceive stigma and/or experience discrimination as a result of the care recipient's condition ( Gibbons et al., 2014 ). There are social changes with a shift from usual participation in life activities to a focus on the challenge of being a caregiver. The unpredictability of the illness experience of the care recipient may lead to uncertainty about the future. The confidence of the caregiver with respect to their caregiving role is linked to the illness status of the care recipient and the caregiver's knowledge and skills in addressing care recipient needs ( Gibbons et al., 2014 ). Along with awareness of caregiving responsibilities, caregivers may also be engaged in trying to make sense of the older adult's impairments. For example, there is considerable variability in conceptions of dementia depending on the culture and educational level and socioeconomic status of the family caregivers ( Hinton, 2002 ).

Increasing Care Demands

Schulz and Tompkins (2010) illustrate the caregiving trajectory for a typical older individual with functional decline who lives in the community and who over time experiences increasing reliance on the caregiver for assistance. The initial tasks may involve monitoring clinical symptoms and medications, as well as managing household tasks, communicating with health professionals, and providing emotional support to the care recipient. Over time, caregiving tasks often expand to include providing self-care tasks, becoming a surrogate decision maker for the care recipient, and providing specialized medical care such as giving injections. The diversity of tasks performed by caregivers is described in detail below. The common factor in the middle to late stages of a caregiving trajectory is the expansion and increased complexity and intensity of the caregiver's roles and responsibilities.

End of Life

This phase along the care trajectory may also involve nursing home care and repeated hospitalizations as the care recipient declines and ultimately dies. Although many caregivers become involved in end-of-life caregiving, few studies make explicit distinctions among the needs and experiences of family caregivers during disease-directed treatment, palliative or supportive care, and end-of-life phases ( Schulz, 2013 ). The few studies that do focus on caregivers during the end-of-life phase suggest that caregiving demands become more urgent and intensive ( Gibbons et al., 2014 ; Penrod et al., 2012 ). Caregivers continue to report high levels of burden and stress, but also find greater meaning and purpose in the experience of caregiving at the end of life ( Emanuel et al., 2000 ; Gibbons et al., 2014 ; Wolff et al., 2007 ). To better understand caregiving during this critical phase in the trajectory, more fine-grained prospective studies are needed that clearly delineate the transition from disease management to supportive care to end-of-life care, and how these transitions affect the caregiver and formal care provided to the care recipient.

In summary, the caregiving role changes over time in concert with changes in the older adult's care needs, transitions from one care setting to another, and changes in the familial, social, and geographic contexts for caregiving. Diversity in family structures, norms, values, and relationships shape how the caregiving trajectory unfolds. Although typical phases in the caregiving trajectory can be identified, they are not necessarily linear and some degree of unpredictability always exists. Thus, caregivers' needs can be expected to change over time, indicating the need for assessment and periodic reassessment, as discussed below. Reassessment is especially important during transitional periods.


Despite the unique nature of any given caregiver's role over time, broad domains of activity characterize family caregiving. Caregiving ranges from assistance with daily activities and providing direct care to the care recipient to navigating complex health care and social services systems. The domains of the caregiving role include: assistance with household tasks, self-care tasks, and mobility; provision of emotional and social support; health and medical care; advocacy and care coordination; and surrogacy. Each domain has multiple tasks and activities (see Table 3-1 ). Cutting across these domains are ongoing cognitive and interpersonal processes in which caregivers engage including, for example, continual problem solving, decision making, communicating with others (family members and health and human service professionals), and constant vigilance over the care recipient's well-being ( Gitlin and Wolff, 2012 ). How caregivers manage these tasks depends on their values, preferences, knowledge, and skills, as well as the accessibility, affordability, and adequacy of health care, LTSS, and other resources, as described further in Chapter 6 .

TABLE 3-1. What Family Caregivers Do for Older Adults.

What Family Caregivers Do for Older Adults.

The particular mix of caregiving activities and time commitments varies. In multiple studies, caregiving for persons with dementia has been shown consistently to be one of the most demanding types of caregiving ( Ory et al., 1999 ; Pinquart and Sörenson, 2007 ). However, a 2004 survey found that the amount of care and level of burden experienced by cancer and dementia caregivers were nearly equivalent, but that specific tasks varied ( Kim and Schulz, 2008 ). For example, cancer caregivers were more likely than dementia caregivers to provide help in getting in and out of bed, whereas dementia caregivers were more likely to deal with incontinence.

The caregiving experience also varies by distance. Long-distance caregivers who live at least 1 hour from the care recipient are typically involved in providing social and emotional support, advanced care planning, financial assistance, and care-coordination. They often share these responsibilities with a more proximal caregiver who provides assistance with personal care. Being separated from the care recipient complicates communication about the care recipient's health and care needs, and poses formidable challenges to address those needs through service providers. Because virtually all of the data on distance caregivers are based on small and/or non-representative samples, caution is warranted in drawing firm conclusions based on these findings ( Cagle and Munn, 2012 ). Better data are needed on the prevalence of long-distance caregiving, identifying who they are, the tasks they perform, and the impact caregiving has on their lives.

Assisting with Household Tasks, Self-Care, Mobility, and Supervision

Nearly all caregivers help older adults in need of care with household tasks such as shopping, laundry, housework, meals, transportation, bills, money management, and home maintenance ( NAC and AARP Public Policy Institute, 2015 ; Spillman et al., 2014 ; Wolff et al., 2016 ). As indicated in Figure 3-2 , these responsibilities are often daily ones if the older adult needs help because of health or functional limitations: 44 percent of caregivers reported helping with chores every day or most days.

Percentage of caregivers who helped every day or most days during the past month, by type of help, 2011. NOTES: Includes family caregivers of Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older in the continental United States who resided in community or residential (more...)

Self-care and mobility tasks include walking, transferring (e.g., getting in and out of bed and chairs, moving from bed to wheelchair), bathing or showering, grooming, dressing, feeding, and toileting (e.g., getting to and from the toilet, maintaining continence, dealing with incontinence). Help with self-care tasks is a frequent and sometimes daily role for some caregivers; 17.9 percent of caregivers reported helping with self-care every day or most days.

Caregivers providing care to “high-need” older adults—those who have at least two self-care needs or dementia—are more likely to help with a wide variety of tasks, including helping with chores, helping the older adult get around the house, keeping track of medications, and making medical appointments. Older adults with both dementia and two or more self-care needs receive the highest levels of help from caregivers: 42 percent of their caregivers provide help with self-care tasks every day or most days. In addition, caregivers of high-need older adults also help with medication management (65 percent), medical tasks (20 percent), and with skin care wounds (35 percent) (see Table 3-2 ). Older adults with dementia or other conditions that severely impair cognitive function may also require constant supervision and hands-on assistance because of their functional limitations and behavioral symptoms.

TABLE 3-2. Type and Frequency of Family Caregiver Tasks in the Past Month, by Care Recipient's Dementia Status and Need for Help with Self-Care, by Percentage, 2011.

Type and Frequency of Family Caregiver Tasks in the Past Month, by Care Recipient's Dementia Status and Need for Help with Self-Care, by Percentage, 2011.

Providing Emotional and Social Support

When older adults first need caregiving because of increasing frailty or onset of a debilitating disease, they need emotional and social supports that are different from the usual exchanges among family members ( Brody, 1985 ). One important change is in the balance of reciprocity in the caregiver–care recipient relationship. With increasing needs, the care recipient may be able to give less to the relationship while needing more from it, despite efforts to maintain some reciprocity ( Pearlin et al., 1990 ). In addition, the care recipient's own emotional response to his or her changing circumstances may require a higher level of emotional support from the caregiver. Caregivers may find themselves dealing with unfamiliar depressive symptoms, anxiety, irritability, or anger in the care recipient.

These changes may be so subtle as to be nearly imperceptible at first. With advancing frailty, changes in the relationship may be recognized only retrospectively after they have been underway for some time. Conversely, relationship changes may occur suddenly, as with a stroke. For example, among stroke caregivers, the most stressful problems are in the caregiver–stroke survivor relationship (including poor communication, frustration with role reversal, and intimacy issues) ( King et al., 2010 ). The task perceived as most time consuming by caregivers was providing emotional support ( Bakas et al., 2004 ). In a study focused on the first year of caregiving after a stroke, caregivers surveyed 8 to 12 months after the stroke event reported that the problems perceived as most stressful were that the care recipient appeared sad or depressed, talked about feeling lonely, had problem controlling bowels, felt worthless or like a burden, and/or appeared anxious or worried ( Haley et al., 2009 ).

Health and Medical Care

Family involvement in health and medical tasks at home is not new, but it has become more common, and is often far more complex than in the past. Older adults' homes have become de facto clinical care settings where caregivers are performing an array of nursing or medical tasks once provided only by licensed or certified professionals in hospitals and nursing homes ( Reinhard and Feinberg, 2015 ; Reinhard et al., 2012 ). This is, in part, the result of ongoing efforts to shorten lengths of hospitalizations and reduce nursing home placements, coupled with increasingly complex options for the medical treatment of chronic and acute conditions in non-institutional settings. The “Home Alone” study by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the United Hospital Fund documented the marked impact of this trend on the roles of caregivers. More recent caregiver surveys continue to find similar results ( Kasper et al., 2014 ; Reinhard and Feinberg, 2015 ; Spillman et al., 2014 ; Wolff et al., 2016 ).

The health and medical care domain of the caregiving role is increasingly complex. Medications were once simply administered. Today, medications prescribed for home use are delivered not only by mouth but also via patches, injections, and intravenously. When the care recipient is seriously ill or severely impaired, the caregiver may also be managing technical procedures and equipment, such as feeding and drainage tubes, catheters, and tracheostomies, as well as managing symptoms and monitoring the care recipient's condition. During cancer treatment, for example, caregivers are called on for numerous health and medical care activities at home, including symptom and side effect management, nutrition, hands-on procedures (e.g., wound care and infusion pumps), management of acute conditions (e.g., fever, dehydration, or delirium), and management of complex medication regimens (e.g., oral chemotherapeutic agents, injections, and an array of symptom management medications) ( Bond et al., 2012 ; Given et al., 2012 ; Krouse et al., 2004 ; Schumacher et al., 2000 ; Silver et al., 2004 ; Swore Fletcher et al., 2012 ; van Ryn et al., 2011 ). When older adults have other chronic medical conditions in addition to cancer, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, or a mental health condition, the management of these co-morbidities may be greatly complicated by cancer treatment ( Given et al., 2012 ; Glajchen, 2004 ).

Advocacy and Care Coordination

Family caregivers often serve as advocates and care coordinators. As advocates, their role is to identify and to help care recipients obtain needed community and health care resources. This may involve determining the care recipient's eligibility for specific services and the potential costs. More often than not, the older adult and the caregiver encounter bewildering and disconnected systems of care that involve an array of entities including health care providers, public- and private-sector community-based agencies, employers, and multiple potential payers (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, and private Medigap plans) ( Bookman and Kimbrel, 2011 ). Caregivers must navigate these multiple, evolving, and increasing complex systems, often without assistance. 3 The role of coordinator often falls to the family caregiver, who must patch together the services that an older adult needs and also serve as the primary communication link among all the involved parties. Many people, such as some racial or ethnic groups, LGBT caregivers, and individuals with limited health literacy, face the additional challenge of finding culturally and linguistically tailored services appropriate to their care recipients' needs ( Coon, 2007 ; Dilworth-Anderson, 2002 ; Fredriksen-Goldsen and Hooyman, 2007 ; Nápoles et al., 2010 ).

The role of family caregivers following discharge of their care recipient from a hospital or skilled nursing facility is important but currently understudied. The caregiver's specific role during this process may vary based on the care needs of the older adult, the caregiver's relationship to the older adult, and where the caregiver lives in relation to the older adult ( Gitlin and Wolff, 2012 ). Given that current research shows the availability and preparedness of caregivers can affect the quality and course of care recipients' post-hospitalization care and that caregivers are often underequipped, outlining and defining these roles is important to designing possible interventions to help caregivers during the discharge process ( Gitlin and Wolff, 2012 ). Chapter 6 discusses current interventions that seek to support caregivers during the discharge and care transition process.

More than three-quarters of caregivers (77 percent) reported helping with health systems interactions; many also assisted with making appointments (67 percent), speaking to doctors (60 percent), ordering medications (55 percent), adding or changing insurance (29 percent), or handling other insurance issues (39 percent) (see Figure 3-3 ).

Percentage of caregivers coordinating care and providing medical tasks during the past month. NOTES: Includes family caregivers of Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older in the continental United States who resided in community or residential care settings (more...)

Family caregivers continue to be involved with older adults who move into residential facilities (e.g., assisted living facilities and nursing homes). They perform tasks similar to those they carried out in the care recipient's home, providing emotional support and companionship, as well as feeding, grooming, managing money, shopping, and providing transportation. For example, in interviews with 438 such caregivers between 2002 and 2005, Williams and colleagues (2012) found that more than half of the caregivers had monitored care recipient health status, managed care, and assisted with meals; 40 percent assisted with self-care tasks. Caregivers may also take on new tasks when their care recipient moves into a residential facility, interacting with the facility's administration and staff, advocating for the resident, and serving as his or her surrogate decision maker ( Friedemann et al., 1997 ; Ryan and Scullion, 2000 ).

Advocacy and care coordination in formal care settings can be especially challenging. A transition to a new care setting often requires the caregiver to coordinate a new array of services and providers, serve as a communication conduit between settings, and seek new information to ensure that the care recipient's needs are met.

Decision Making and Surrogacy

In 2010, at my parents' request, I received both general and healthcare powers of attorney. The healthcare power of attorney contains both a living will and a HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] authorization, and gives me broad authority to get health information and make decisions. (I carry them with me at all times on a USB memory stick.) ( Kenyon, 2015 )

Caregivers are often involved in decision making with and, in some circumstances, for care recipients. However, the nature of caregivers' involvement varies. Types of decision-making roles include directive; participatory; supportive or guiding; advisory; advocacy; and trying to hold back and let the older adult decide ( Garvelink et al., 2016 ). Care recipients with cognitive impairments may require surrogate decision making, as discussed below, although individuals with mild to moderate cognitive impairment often have the ability to express preferences and make choices ( Feinberg and Whitlatch, 2001 ; Whitlatch, 2008 ). Frail older adults may be able to express their preferences, but lack executional autonomy or the ability to carry out their decisions without considerable assistance from a caregiver ( Gillick, 2013 ). Caregivers and care recipients may confront many kinds of decisions, including decisions about treatment choices, location of care, and end-of-life care ( Edwards et al., 2012 ; Garvelink et al., 2016 ; Gillick, 2013 ).

Decision making involves both older adult and caregiver values, preferences, needs, goals, abilities, and perceptions, which may or may not be congruent and in some instances may be in conflict ( Garvelink et al., 2016 ; Kitko et al., 2015 ; Moon et al., 2016 ; Whitlatch and Feinberg, 2007 ). Decision making also involves religious considerations, family dynamics, finances, and feasibility ( Garvelink et al., 2016 ). While respecting the rights of the care recipient and making sure his or her voice is primary, good communication and finding a balance between the care recipient's needs and preferences and the caregiver's ability to meet them contribute to the well-being of both parties ( Whitlatch, 2008 ). Multiple legal tools such as health care and financial powers of attorney, living wills, and personal care agreements can help family caregivers and their families to better outline the preferences of the care recipient and the scope of his or her caregiver's decision making authority ( Sabatino, 2015 ).

Although supported decision making attempts to give individuals the assistance they need to make decisions for themselves to the greatest extent possible, many individuals with advanced illnesses lack decision making capacity and therefore need to rely on surrogates. Studies show that family members are involved in decision making for nearly half (47 percent) of hospitalized older adults, including 23 percent needing all decisions made by a surrogate ( Torke et al., 2009 , 2014 ).

Most individuals prefer to involve family members in medical decisions and have family serve as surrogate decision makers when the individual loses decision-making capacity ( Kelly et al., 2012 ). Some individuals step into the role of surrogate formally by being appointed under an advance directive or power of attorney or by a court in a guardianship proceeding. Others may fall into the role by default by virtue of being a close family member or friend. For health care decisions, the prevailing paradigm for default surrogate decision makers is a nuclear family hierarchy although some states also recognize close friends at the end of the hierarchy ( ABA Commission on Law and Aging, 2014 ). This next-of-kin model lacks flexibility for accommodating diverse family structures and decision-making practices.

Family surrogates also face surrogate decision-making tasks far beyond health decisions. The management of the care recipient's affairs including financial, legal, and insurance issues is common. There is no counterpart to health care default surrogate decision-making laws for financial affairs. Family members must have some type of formal authority to make decisions for the care recipient by means of some form of co-ownership (e.g., joint bank accounts) or they must be appointed to manage financial affairs as a fiduciary typically by means of a durable power of attorney for finances or a trust. They are often unfamiliar with these legal options and unprepared to take on the fiduciary roles bestowed by these legal tools.

Preparedness for Caregiving

Given the multifaceted and complex nature of the caregiving role as described above, preparedness for caregiving is essential. Caregivers need specialized knowledge and skills relevant to their particular needs, as well as broadly defined competencies, such as problem-solving and communication skills ( Gitlin and Wolff, 2012 ). Yet the available evidence indicates that many caregivers receive inadequate preparation for the tasks they are expected to assume. In the 2015 National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute survey, half (51 percent) of caregivers of older adults age 50 and older with Alzheimer's disease or dementia reported that they provide medical/nursing tasks without prior preparation. Thirty percent of Alzheimer's disease caregivers had informational needs about managing challenging behaviors and 21 percent wanted more help or information about incontinence. In the Home Alone study, more than 60 percent of the caregivers reported learning how to manage at least some medications on their own ( Reinhard et al., 2012 ). Forty-seven percent reported never receiving training from any source. Caregivers described learning by trial and error and feared making a mistake.

In summary, the family caregiving role is broad in scope, and often requires a significant commitment of time. The complexity of the caregiving role has increased in recent years. Whereas families traditionally have provided emotional support and assisted their older members with household and self-care tasks, family caregivers now provide health and medical care at home, navigate complicated and fragmented health care and LTSS, and serve in a surrogacy role that has legal implications. Given the scope and complexity of the family caregiving role, ensuring that caregivers are well prepared is essential. Yet caregiver educational needs are not systematically addressed and training in the performance of caregiving tasks is inconsistent at best.

The scope, time commitment, and complexity of the family caregiving role make it unique in the care of older adults. No single health care or social service discipline is charged with providing assistance with self-care and household tasks, providing emotional support, and performing health and medical tasks around the clock, 7 days per week; advocating for an older adult's needs, values, and preferences in multiple health care and LTSS settings; and functioning in a legal capacity as a surrogate decision maker. Health and social service professionals and direct care workers “hand off” responsibility to others, whereas many family caregivers do not have the option of handing off their responsibilities. Given the essential role they play, involving family caregivers as key partners in health care and LTSS settings is vitally important, as discussed further in Chapter 6 .


The effects of caregiving are both wide ranging and highly individualized. Caregivers are potentially at increased risk for adverse effects on their well-being in virtually every aspect of their lives, ranging from their health and quality of life to their relationships and economic security. However, the actual consequences for individual caregivers are variable, depending on a host of individual and contextual characteristics.

Data from NSOC provide an overview of both negative and positive impacts of caregiving. For example, more than 20 percent of caregivers report that caregiving is financially and physically difficult for them, and 44 percent report that it is emotionally difficult. High rates of difficulty are particularly prevalent among caregivers providing intensive levels of care. As one would expect, caring for persons with high care needs such as persons with dementia or self-care needs creates more difficulties for the caregiver than persons with lesser needs. These caregivers also report relatively high rates of exhaustion, being overwhelmed, and not having enough time for themselves (see Table 3-3 ).

TABLE 3-3. Family Caregiver Reports of Emotional, Physical, and Other Difficulties, by Care Recipient's Dementia Status and Level of Impairment, by Percentage, 2011.

Family Caregiver Reports of Emotional, Physical, and Other Difficulties, by Care Recipient's Dementia Status and Level of Impairment, by Percentage, 2011.

Caregivers also find benefit in caregiving. As shown in Figure 3-4 , helping the care recipients often instills confidence in the caregivers, teaches them how to deal with difficult situations, makes them feel closer to the care recipient, and assures them that the care recipient is well-cared for. It is important to note, however, that these positive effects can co-exist with the negative impact of caregiving. Caregivers can simultaneously feel highly distressed and report that they derive benefit from the caregiving experience ( Beach et al., 2000 ).

Percentage of caregivers responding very much, somewhat, not so much to positive aspects of caregiving. NOTES: Includes family caregivers of Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older in the continental United States who resided in community or residential (more...)

Psychological Effects

As noted above, caregivers experience both positive and negative psychological effects from caregiving ( Pinquart and Sörensen, 2003 ), but research has by far focused on negative effects. The effects of caregiving are variable, depending on characteristics intrinsic and extrinsic to the individual. Nevertheless, the body of evidence on negative effects is far larger than that on positive effects, as researchers have sought to assess the public health implications of caregiving and identify vulnerable at-risk caregivers. Documenting the adverse effects of family caregiving on both caregivers and care recipients is a requisite first step in developing interventions and public policy to address the needs of caregivers.

Negative psychological effects of caregiving span a continuum ranging from the perception that caregiving is stressful or burdensome, to symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, to clinical depression diagnosed by a health professional, to impaired quality of life ( Schulz and Sherwood, 2008 ; Zarit et al., 1980 ).

Assessment of psychological effects in research includes evaluation of individual psychological constructs (e.g., burden, depression, or anxiety) and the use of global inventories of mental health that encompass both depression and anxiety and instruments aimed at characterizing general well-being and quality of life in the caregiver. Both caregiver self-report and clinical interviews with diagnostic criteria are used in research. Samples may be heterogeneous or more narrowly targeted to particular groups of caregivers (e.g., spouses or particular clinical populations).

A large and robust literature documents higher rates of psychological distress among caregivers compared with non-caregiver comparison groups. Evidence has been steadily accumulating during the 20 years that have elapsed since one of the earliest reviews by Schulz and colleagues (1995) and now includes a vast number of individual clinical studies, multiple systematic reviews (e.g., Cuijpers, 2005 ; Pinquart and Sörensen, 2003 ), and an increasing number of population-based epidemiological studies ( Capistrant, 2016 ; Wolff et al., 2016 ). Much of this literature is based on cross-sectional studies in which caregivers are compared to comparable non-caregivers. Since matching is always imperfect, these studies raise questions about the net effect of caregiving as opposed to selection biases that may be associated with caregiver outcomes. For example, shared life-style factors in married couples would predict that disability and psychological distress in one partner is associated with similar characteristics in the other. Thus, an outcome attributed to caregiving such as depression may be a reflection of underlying vulnerabilities shared by both partners ( Roth et al., 2015 ). A more compelling case for the causal relationship between caregiving and psychological distress, for example, can be made from longitudinal studies in which individuals are followed into, throughout, and out of the caregiving role. These studies demonstrate significant declines in well-being as the person enters the caregiving role, further deterioration in well-being as care demands increase, and recovery after the care recipient dies ( Beach et al., 2000 ; Dunkle et al., 2014 ; Hirst, 2005 ; Kurtz et al., 1995 ; Schulz et al., 2003 ). Intervention studies (see Chapter 5 ) showing improvement in caregiver health and wellbeing when caregiving needs are addressed also support causal connections between caregiving and well-being outcomes.

The prevalence of negative psychological effects among caregivers indicates that large segments of the caregiving population experience adverse effects. For example, 26 percent of all caregivers and 29 percent of those caring for the most disabled older adults reported substantial emotional difficulties in NSOC ( Spillman et al., 2014 ). Thirteen percent of all caregivers and 15 percent of those caring for the most disabled older adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. In a study of caregivers of individuals who experienced a stroke, Haley and colleagues (2009) found that 14 percent of stroke caregivers reported clinically significant levels of depression. Even higher rates of depression are found in the dementia caregiving population. In a systematic review of 10 studies in this population, the prevalence rate for depressive disorders was 22.3 percent using standardized diagnostic criteria ( Cuijpers, 2005 ). Among cancer caregivers, 25 percent reported clinically meaningful levels of depressive symptoms 2 years after the care recipient's diagnosis ( Girgis et al., 2013 ; Kim et al., 2014 ).

In a meta-analysis of 84 studies, caregivers again were found to experience more depression and stress and less general subjective well-being than non-caregivers ( Pinquart and Sörensen, 2003 ). Although differences in psychological well-being between whites and racial and ethnic subgroups are generally small, several systematic reviews report that African American caregivers tended to report lower levels of caregiver burden and depression than white, non-Hispanic caregivers while Hispanic and Asian American caregivers reported more depression than white caregivers ( Nápoles et al., 2010 ; Pinquart and Sörensen, 2005 ). In a systematic review, Cuijpers (2005) found that the relative risk for clinical depression among dementia caregivers compared with non-caregivers in six studies ranged from 2.80 to 38.68. In an analysis of data from the prospective Nurses' Health Study, women who provided 36 or more hours of care per week to a disabled spouse were nearly 6 times more likely than non-caregivers to experience depressive or anxious symptoms ( Cannuscio et al., 2002 ).

Family caregiver depressive symptoms and anxiety persist when the care recipient moves to a long-term care facility with similar severity as when they were providing in-home care, and antianxiety medication use has been found to increase before and after placement ( Schulz et al., 2004 ). Indeed, the greater the hands-on care provided by the family caregivers, the higher their distress, and the lower their satisfaction with care provided by the nursing home staff ( Tornatore and Grant, 2004 ). Causes of distress among caregivers include inadequate resident self-care, lack of communication with nursing home physicians, and challenges of surrogate decision making, including the need for education to support advance care planning and end-of-life decisions ( Givens et al., 2012 ). Although the findings on the experience and impact of family caregiving in LTSS settings are consistent across studies ( Gaugler, 2005 ), individual study samples are not necessarily representative of this population, making it difficult to generate population-level estimates for these indicators.

Longitudinal studies of psychological health effects among caregivers over time suggest that negative effects vary across the caregiving trajectory, although there may be critical periods when caregivers are most at risk for elevated psychological distress. In an analysis of longitudinal data from the British Household Panel Survey, Hirst (2005) found that negative psychological effects among heavily involved caregivers were most pronounced around the transitional periods of the start of caregiving and when caregiving ends. Longitudinal data from the Nurses' Health Study ( Cannuscio et al., 2002 ) and the Health and Retirement Study ( Dunkle et al., 2014 ) also indicate that the transition into the caregiving role is a time of elevated risk for increased depressive symptomatology.

However, caregiving over a long period of time may also have negative psychological effects. The American Cancer Society National Quality of Life Survey for Caregivers, which included follow-up assessments 2 and 5 years after cancer diagnosis, found that those who were still caregiving at 5 years had the largest increase in depressive symptoms and the poorest quality of life when compared to caregivers for a recipient now in remission or bereaved caregivers of recipients who had died ( Kim et al., 2014 ). Among the group that was still caregiving, the level of clinically meaningful depressive symptoms rose from 28 percent at 2 years to 42 percent at 5 years ( Kim et al., 2014 ).

A different longitudinal pattern was found in the stroke population, suggesting that the impact of caregiving over time may vary across clinical populations. In the Caring for Adults Recovering from the Effects of Stroke (CARES) study, caregivers at 9 months after a stroke had significantly higher depressive symptoms than non-caregiving controls. However, this difference decreased over time, suggesting that caregivers are able to adapt to caregiving demands that remain relatively stable over time ( Haley et al., 2015 ).

Positive Aspects

Although a substantial proportion of the caregiver population experiences negative psychological effects, many also find caregiving rewarding. Thus, a growing number of studies focus on the positive effects of caregiving in order to better understand the potential for personal growth and the mental health-promoting aspects of caregiving ( Brown and Brown, 2014 ; Roth et al., 2015 ). However, as yet, fewer systematic reviews and population-based studies are available for positive effects compared with negative effects. Nevertheless, such research has introduced a more balanced treatment of psychological effects into the literature.

The positive psychological effects of caregiving have been defined in various ways. Most common are caregiving rewards or benefits, appreciation of life, personal growth, enhanced self-efficacy, competence or mastery, self-esteem, and closer relationships ( Haley et al., 2009 ; J. H. Kim et al., 2007 ; Y. Kim et al., 2007 ). Prevalence rates for positive psychological effects are high across the caregiving population as a whole, with variation evident among demographic subgroups of caregivers. In NSOC, for example, 46 percent of caregivers reported feeling “very much” more confident about their abilities (see Figure 3-4 ). Percentages are substantially higher on this indicator for African American caregivers (68 percent), Hispanic caregivers (60 percent), caregivers with less than a high school education (67 percent), caregivers with income below $20,000 (67 percent), and caregivers who help more often with self-care tasks (58 percent). Similarly, in NSOC, 52 percent of caregivers reported feeling “very much” better able to deal with difficult situations. Again, percentages are higher for African American caregivers (67 percent), caregivers with less than a high school education (64 percent), and caregivers who help more often with self-care tasks (66 percent). These findings are consistent with literature reviews showing that racial and ethnic minority caregivers experienced higher levels of subjective well-being and perceived uplifts than white, non-Hispanic caregivers ( Pinquart and Sörensen, 2005 ).

Positive psychological effects may mitigate some of the negative effects of caregiving, as several studies find that positive effects are associated with lower levels of burden and depression and better overall mental health. For example, van der Lee and colleagues (2014) found that a sense of competence or self-efficacy was associated with less caregiver burden and greater mental health, while Y. Kim and colleagues (2007) found that caregivers' esteem from caregiving was associated with lower psychological distress and better mental functioning.

In summary, a large body of literature, including population-based cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, provides strong evidence that a substantial proportion of the caregiving population experiences negative psychological effects, even though caregiving has some positive effects as well. Regardless of the mental health indicator used, levels of distress are high enough to constitute a public health concern.

Evidence about predictors of negative psychological health effects suggests that prevalence rates vary across subgroups of caregivers, placing some caregivers at higher risk for negative effects than others. Further evidence suggests that risk factors are multifactorial and may be cumulative. Women providing many hours of care weekly to a care recipient with challenging behavioral symptoms may be at particularly high risk. Thus, multidimensional assessment is needed to identify the specific array of risk factors present for any given caregiver. Likewise, interventions need to be tailored to specific subpopulations of caregivers.

Physical Health Effects

A variety of indicators have been used to assess the physical health of caregivers including global health status indicators, physiological measures, and health behaviors (see Table 3-4 ). Global health status indicators include standardized self-assessment tools such as health-related quality of life, chronic conditions, physical symptoms (e.g., Cornell Medical Index), mortality, and health service use, including clinic visits, physician or nurse practitioner visits, and days in the hospital ( Schulz and Sherwood, 2008 ). For example, in a review of 176 studies of family caregivers of older adults assessing the physical health of caregivers, Pinquart and Sörenson (2007) found 66 percent of studies used a “single-item indicator” self-report measure, 21 percent incorporated measures related to physical impairment (activities of daily living or instrumental activities of daily living scales), 19 percent included measures based on a symptom checklist (e.g., SF-36 4 ), 15 percent used the number of medical or chronic conditions, three studies assessed use of medications, and three measured usage of hospital or doctor visits. Saban and colleagues (2010) identified a similar list of health outcomes in their review of the literature and noted that overall studies focused on physical health are much rarer than studies assessing psychological outcomes such as stress and depression.

TABLE 3-4. Summary of Findings on the Physical Health Outcomes of Family Caregiving of Older Adults.

Summary of Findings on the Physical Health Outcomes of Family Caregiving of Older Adults.

The diversity of methods and instruments used to measure caregiver health makes cross-study comparisons and meta-analyses difficult ( Grady and Rosenbaum, 2015 ). Methodological rigor of studies that assess impacts on the physical health of caregivers is often limited by study sample size, selection of comparison or control groups, timeline for data collection and longitudinal assessments as well as by the statistical methods used ( Cameron and Elliott, 2015 ; Grady and Rosenbaum, 2015 ). Thus, caution is advised in overattributing negative health outcomes to the effects of caregiving. The physical health status and outcomes for caregivers may be relatively independent of the caregiving role or related to individual characteristics that existed prior to assuming the caregiving role, such as socioeconomic status, health habits, and prior illness ( Brown and Brown, 2014 ; Robison et al., 2009 ; Roth et al., 2015 ; Schulz and Sherwood, 2008 ). Nevertheless, the data support the conclusion that at least some caregivers are at risk for adverse health outcomes ( Capistrant, 2016 ). In the discussion below, we identify a broad range of individual and contextual factors that contribute to adverse health outcomes in caregivers.

Caregivers' Reports on their Health Status

Caregivers tend to rate their health as poorer than non-caregivers. Caregivers for older care recipients consistently report poorer subjective health status than non-caregivers ( Berglund et al., 2015 ; Pinquart and Sörenson, 2003 ). Poorer caregiver physical health is closely associated with greater caregiver burden and depressive symptoms and is associated to a lesser degree with hours of care provided, the number of caregiving tasks, months in the caregiver role, as well as the physical, cognitive, and behavioral impairments and problems of the care recipient ( Pinquart and Sörenson, 2007 ). Family caregivers in England responding to a national survey of users of primary care services also reported poorer health and a worse primary care individual experience compared with non-caregiver individuals with similar demographics, including age, gender, ethnicity, and level of social deprivation ( Persson et al., 2015 ). In NSOC, 20 percent of all caregivers and 39 percent of caregivers of high-need older adults reported that they experienced a substantial level of physical difficulty. 5 Sleep problems affected more than 40 percent of caregivers and were highly correlated with reports of substantial negative effects of caregiving (Spillman et al, 2014).

Using the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a large representative sample of U.S. adults, Capistrant and colleagues (2012) found that being a spousal caregiver independently predicted incident cardiovascular disease. Longer-term caregivers had twice the risk of short-term caregivers. However, this effect was observed only among whites, not among non-whites. Ji and colleagues (2012) reported similar results for spousal caregivers of persons with cancer. After cancer diagnosis in their spouse, the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke were higher in both husband and wife caregivers when compared to husbands and wives without an affected spouse. These effects were more pronounced when the type of cancer had a high mortality rate, such as pancreatic and lung cancers. These findings suggest that psychological distress associated with the diagnosis may play a role in the risk of CHD and stroke.

Also based on data from the HRS collected from 1998 to 2010, Dassel and Carr (2014) showed that spousal caregivers of persons with dementia are significantly more likely to experience increased frailty (i.e., unintentional weight loss, self-reported exhaustion, weakness, slow walking speed, and low physical activity [as defined by Fried et al., 2001 ]) over time when compared to non-dementia spousal caregivers. Similarly, a systematic review of 192 articles focused on cancer caregiving (1990-2008) found that the most prevalent problems for caregivers included sleep disturbance, fatigue, pain, loss of physical strength, loss of appetite, and weight loss ( Stenberg et al., 2010 ).

One of the consistent themes in the caregiver health effects literature concerns the role of caregiver strain in predicting negative health effects ( Schulz et al., 1997 ), including mortality. Schulz and Beach (1999) found increased risk of mortality (63 percent) among older spousal caregivers, but only if they reported emotional strain in the caregiving role. Perkins and colleagues (2013) reported similar results showing that caregivers who reported high levels of caregiving strain had an excess 55 percent mortality risk when compared with those reporting no stress. Living with a person with Parkinson's disease 5 years after first Parkinson hospitalization was associated with higher risk of all-cause mortality for both husbands and wives in a study by Nielsen and colleagues (2014) .

In contrast to these studies, several recent population-based studies suggest the opposite—that caregiving is associated with lower mortality risk ( Brown et al., 2009 ). Fredman and colleagues (2015) found a 26 percent lower mortality risk among older adult caregivers when compared to non-caregivers, and several U.S. Census-based studies show lower mortality rates among caregivers ( O'Reilly et al., 2008 , O'Reilly et al., 2015 ; Ramsay et al., 2013 ). These opposing perspectives on caregiving and mortality may be reconcilable if we consider that negative impact studies are typically based on vulnerable, older, strained caregiving spouses providing intense levels of care while studies reporting positive effects focus on all caregivers regardless of age of caregiver, relationship to the care recipient, or type and amount of care provided.

Caregiving-Related Injuries

Providing care to an older adult is often physically demanding. In NSOC, 20 percent of all caregivers and 39 percent of high-need caregivers reported that providing care was physically difficult. Caregiving tasks such as transfers, lifts, bathing, dressing, and repositioning the care recipient place physical strain on the caregiver and may result in musculoskeletal injury such as back ache, muscle strain, and contusions ( Brown and Mulley, 1997 ; Darragh et al., 2015 ; Hartke et al., 2006 ). These effects are likely to be exacerbated among older caregivers with impaired vestibular function, limited motion due to arthritis, and weakness due to age-related changes in muscle mass. The risk of injury is further compounded by the home environments of the care recipient, which may include small spaces, crowded and cluttered rooms, and steep stairways ( NRC, 2011 ). Although reliable data on injury rates among caregivers are not available, the fact that paid home health aides as well as home care nursing and rehabilitation personnel sustain high rates of work-related musculoskeletal disorders suggests that this is likely to be a problem among family caregivers as well. Workplace injuries among direct-care workers that result in time away from work are four times the average rate of all occupations ( BLS, 2007 ). Mitigating injuries related to caregiving requires a careful assessment of the home environment, an understanding of caregiving task demands, and the physical capabilities of the caregiver. This information can then be used to develop a treatment plan that may involve home alterations, caregiver training on how to safely perform required caregiving tasks, and the use of paid professionals to perform tasks that place the caregiver at risk of injury ( Cornman-Levy et al., 2001 ).

Physiological Measures

Biological indicators include a broad array of measures aimed at assessing physiological markers that are thought to be responsive to chronic stress exposure and affect downstream illness and disease. These markers include measures of stress hormones and neurotransmitters such as cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine; measures of immunologic function such as natural killer cell activity and healing response to a standardized skin puncture wound (wound healing); antibody markers such as vaccination response; cardiovascular markers such as blood pressure and heart rate; and metabolic markers such as insulin, transferrin, and plasma lipids ( Vitaliano et al., 2003 ). These markers have been studied primarily in case control studies comparing stressed dementia caregivers with demographically similar non-caregiving controls. In a meta-analysis of the literature in this area, Vitaliano and colleagues (2003) found moderately sized statistically significant differences between dementia caregivers and controls, indicating more adverse effects among dementia caregivers. Subsequent studies have shown an increased risk of cardiometabolic changes and increased Framingham Coronary Heart Disease Risk Scores in dementia caregivers as well as proinflammatory changes and accelerated aging of the immune system (i.e., telomere erosion) ( Damjanovic et al., 2007 ; Haley et al., 2010 ; Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2003 ; Mausbach et al., 2007 ; von Känel et al., 2008 ). A recent study also examined kidney function in dementia caregivers over a study period of up to 3 years, but found no differences between caregivers and non-caregivers, possibly because the follow-up period was not long enough ( von Känel et al., 2012 ). While the preponderance of evidence suggests an association between caregiving and physiological function, it is important to keep in mind that the caregivers selected for these studies are typically moderately to highly stressed dementia caregivers and therefore the generalizability of findings may be limited. In addition, some researchers have questioned the choice of control subjects in these case control studies, which may not adequately control for preexisting differences between caregivers and non-caregivers ( O'Reilly et al., 2015 ).

Health Behaviors

For caregivers, neglect of their own health may worsen preexisting illnesses or increase vulnerability to stress-related problems ( Son et al., 2007 ; Vitaliano et al., 2003 ; Yueh-Feng Lu and Austrom, 2005 ). Health-promoting self-care behaviors are designed to improve health, maintain optimal functioning, and increase general well-being. Health-promoting self-care for caregivers can include getting enough rest, maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, taking breaks, taking care of one's own health, seeking preventive health care, joining a support group, and locating respite care when needed ( Acton, 2002 ; Collins and Swartz, 2011 ). Health risk behaviors for caregivers can include substance abuse, sleep problems, poor diets, sedentary behaviors ( Vitaliano et al., 2003 ), smoking ( Salgado-Garcia et al., 2015 ), and alcohol consumption ( de Nooijer, et al., 2003 ).

Early work by researchers such as Gallant and Connell (1997) , Pearlin and colleagues (1990) , and Schulz and Beach (1999) suggested that health-promoting and self-care behaviors may be neglected by caregivers due to their caregiving duties, lack of time and energy to take care of themselves, or breakdown of social networks; health risk behaviors also may be triggered by care recipient behaviors or by coping mechanisms induced by the stress of caregiving. For example, in a study of dementia caregivers, nearly one-third frequently or occasionally missed medication doses and nearly a half did not keep their own health care appointments ( Wang et al., 2015 ). In another dementia caregiving sample, 40 percent of caregivers reported smoking and 25 percent reported a recent increase in smoking ( Salgado-Garcia et al., 2015 ).

Being female ( Wang et al., 2015 ) and older ( Rabinowitz et al., 2007 ) or younger ( Salgado-Garcia et al., 2015 ) have all been associated with poorer caregiver health behavior. However, the relationship between caregiving and health behaviors/self-care is complex. In a review article of 23 studies, Vitaliano and colleagues (2003) found that dementia caregivers reported more risky health behaviors than non-caregivers. Although caregivers may have had poor health habits before caregiving ( Vitaliano et al., 2003 ) or their health behaviors may be related to illness or other factors, these behaviors may also be triggered by the care recipient's behaviors or by distress.

This potential relationship between caregiving events and factors related to the caregiver can be seen clearly in the case of caregiver sleep disturbance. Caregivers of people with dementia have more sleep problems than non-caregiving adults, including waking up in the night or early morning, bathroom needs, sleep-onset difficulties, nighttime care recipient disruptions, and psychological distress ( Wilcox and King, 1999 ). Behaviors of people with dementia may initially disrupt the caregiver's sleep patterns. However, subsequent caregiver sleep disturbances may be the result of factors related to risk factors for sleep difficulties (e.g., being an older woman, poor caregiver health), or subjective caregiver burden, depression, or anxiety ( McCurry et al., 2007 ; Wilcox and King, 1999 ).

Evidence shows that burden, stress, and depression influence health behaviors. Caregivers who report high levels of stress are more likely to report risky health behaviors ( Sisk, 2000 ; Zarit and Gaugler, 2000 ). Higher levels of objective (care recipient problem behaviors) and subjective (feeling of overload) burden are associated with negative health behaviors for dementia caregivers ( Son et al., 2007 ), as is worse care recipient health ( Rabinowitz et al., 2007 ). Increase in smoking for caregivers is associated with higher depression scores ( Salgado-Garcia et al., 2015 ). Longer length of caregiving and more care recipient dependency in activities of daily living are associated with a decrease in the health-promoting behaviors of medication adherence and appointment keeping for caregivers ( Wang et al., 2015 ). Conversely, caregivers who spend less time on duty for the care recipient use more health care services for themselves ( Martindale-Adams et al., 2015 ). Caregivers perceiving lower subjective burden practice more health-promoting behaviors than those with higher subjective burden scores ( Sisk, 2000 ).

Feeling capable of managing caregiving difficulties and positive caregiver health behaviors are associated. In a study of dementia caregivers, higher self-efficacy in controlling upsetting thoughts and obtaining respite is associated with fewer negative health risk behaviors and higher engagement in positive health behaviors ( Rabinowitz et al., 2007 ). More caregiving skills are associated with less increase in smoking ( Salgado-Garcia et al., 2015 ). Caregivers who practice health-promoting self-care behaviors are better protected from stress, and the effects of stress on well-being are reduced ( Acton, 2002 ).

Social Effects

The social effects of caregiving range from changes in family relationships, including relationships with a spouse, children, and other close individuals, to changes in social activities with and social support from a wider network. Reduced time and energy for maintaining social relationships may occur, resulting in isolation and long-term constriction of social networks ( George and Gwyther, 1986 ; Gwyther, 1998 ; Seltzer and Li, 2000 ; Skaff and Pearlin, 1992 ). In some instances, caregivers may experience extreme, life-changing social effects that irrevocably change relationships and even alter the life course, such as marital infidelity, spousal abuse, and/or divorce.

The time demands of caregiving often limit the opportunity to engage in other activities that caregivers enjoy (see Table 3-5 ). For example, 15.1 percent of caregivers responded “very much” and 26.2 percent responded “somewhat” when asked if they do not have time for themselves. Family caregivers who help with self-care tasks and/or care for persons with dementia report more limitations in their ability to spend time for themselves when compared to caregivers with less intense care responsibilities. As shown in Table 3-5 , high-need caregivers who care for someone with probable dementia and with self-care needs report the highest level of restriction in their ability to visit with friends and family, to attend religious services, to go out for dinner or movies, or to do volunteer work.

TABLE 3-5. Family Caregiving's Social Impact, by Care Recipient's Dementia Status and Level of Impairment, by Percentage, 2011.

Family Caregiving's Social Impact, by Care Recipient's Dementia Status and Level of Impairment, by Percentage, 2011.

Family Relationships

Family relationships and quality of life may also be impacted by caregiving demands, although this topic has received relatively little attention in the caregiving literature. In a large panel study of Health and Retirement Study participants, Amirkhanyan and Wolf (2006) found that adverse psychological effects of caregiving are dispersed throughout the family and not just the active caregivers. Bookwala (2009) found in a sample of adult caregiving daughters and sons that longer-term caregivers were significantly less happy in their marriages than those who recently assumed the caregiving role, suggesting that it takes time for negative impacts to manifest themselves.

The demands of caregiving may also generate familial conflict about care decisions. When caregivers were asked in NSOC how much family members disagreed over the details of the care recipient's care, 6.7 percent reported that family members disagreed “very much” and 13.9 percent disagreed “somewhat.” These percentages were higher for Hispanic caregivers (11.0 percent and 17.5 percent), caregivers with less than a high school education (15.2 percent and 5.7 percent), and caregivers providing high-intensity care defined as helping with two or more self-care needs (8.9 percent and 17.5 percent).

Sources of conflict include differing views about the appropriate boundaries for caregiving, disapproval of family members' actions or attitudes, disagreements about the nature and seriousness of the care recipient's condition, perceived failure to appreciate the demands on the primary caregiver and to provide adequate help or support, disapproval of the quality of care, and disagreements over financial matters pertaining to the care recipient ( Aneshensel et al., 1995 ; Gwyther, 1995 ; Gwyther and Matchar, 2015 ; Strawbridge and Wallhagen, 1991 ). Aneshensel and colleagues (1995) found that although levels of conflict were low for most caregivers, one in four reported intense strife in at least one area of family conflict. In some instances, conflicts may be severe, resulting in severed relationships or legal action ( Strawbridge and Wallhagen, 1991 ).

Anecdotal evidence in clinical and research contexts suggests that a small percentage of family caregivers experience severe conflict related to caregiving, resulting in abusive interactions with other family members and even divorce or other legal actions. Given the sensitive and potentially stigmatizing aspects of severe family conflict, it is surprising that this level of conflict has not been systematically examined in research. Thus, severe family conflict remains a hidden social effect of caregiving, recognized in clinical practice, but unexplored to date in research.

In sum, the time and energy demands of caregiving may compete with both work and leisure activities. The impact of caregiving on work is discussed in the following chapter. The brief review here highlights the consequences of caregiving for leisure activities, quality of married life, and family conflict. The small literature in this area emphasizes negative effects in all of these domains. Family systems approaches to caregiving in which family members are viewed as interacting elements that attempt to synchronize their efforts to deal with the challenges of providing care are relatively rare in the literature and deserve further attention. Because the caregiving literature has focused almost exclusively on the single primary caregiver, little is known about how care tasks are distributed within a family over time, how care responsibilities are negotiated, and how the physical and psychological effects of caregiving are shared among family members. A better understanding of these processes may help to identify new intervention opportunities for caregiving.

Elder Mistreatment and Neglect

A potential effect of caregiving stress is elder mistreatment and neglect. Mistreatment of older adults can take many forms including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as financial exploitation, neglect, and abandonment ( National Center on Elder Abuse, 2015 ). To qualify as mistreatment, a behavior has to intentionally cause harm or create a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable older adult. The term “domestic elder abuse” is used to refer to mistreatment committed by someone with whom the older adult has a special relationship such as a spouse, sibling, child, friend, or caregiver. Caregiver neglect is a specific type of mistreatment in which the caregiver intentionally fails to address the physical, social, or emotional needs of the older person. This neglect can include withholding food, water, clothing, medications, or assistance with activities of daily living such as help with personal hygiene.

Prevalence estimates of abuse have generally ranged from 7 to 10 percent of older adults annually, although physical abuse (less than 2 percent) and sexual abuse (less than 1 percent) prevalence are much lower ( Acierno et al., 2010 ; Lachs and Berman, 2011 ; Laumann et al., 2008 ). Research suggests that family members commit most abuse, but it is not known if this abuse occurs primarily within a caregiving context. Rates of abuse are generally higher for older adults with dementia and/or adults who need physical assistance, suggesting that family caregivers are likely perpetrators of abuse ( Beach et al., 2005 ).

Although the data suggest that family caregivers may play a significant role in committing elder mistreatment when it does occur, there is a lack of adequate data to address this issue. Based on responses from care recipients, studies of potentially harmful behaviors, defined as behaviors that are detrimental to the elder's physical and psychological well-being, show prevalence rates of nearly 25 percent among caregivers. By far the most prevalent potentially harmful caregiver behavior involved negative verbal interactions like screaming/yelling (22.2 percent) or using a harsh tone of voice/insulting/calling names/swearing (11.7 percent). Physical forms of abuse like hitting/slapping, shaking, and handling roughly in other ways were much less prevalent, reported by only about 1 percent of the care recipients ( Beach et al., 2005 ). Level of care recipient impairment in cognitive and physical functioning was a strong predictor of potentially harmful behavior. Similar results with even higher prevalence rates were reported by Lafferty and colleagues (2016) in their survey of more than 2,000 caregivers in Ireland. The extent to which family caregivers experience abuse, by the older adults they care for, is not known. More research is needed on the prevalence of elder mistreatment among caregivers, the type of mistreatment they commit, the circumstances under which it occurs, and the factors that mitigate mistreatment or neglect. Of particular importance is gaining a better understanding of how and when a supportive caregiving relationship evolves into an abusive one.

Risk Factors for Adverse Outcomes

The above review clearly finds that a significant proportion of caregivers experience a broad range of adverse outcomes including impairment in psychological and physical health, disruptions in social relationships, and possible mistreatment of the care provider or recipient. These negative effects, however, are not universal. While nearly half of caregivers experience emotional distress associated with caregiving, a much smaller proportion exhibit adverse physical health effects. This begs the question, who is at risk for adverse outcomes as a result of caregiving?

All of the variables listed in Table 3-6 have been identified in one or more studies as risk factors for adverse caregiver outcomes. These risk factors fall into six categories:

TABLE 3-6. Risk Factors for Adverse Outcomes Due to Family Caregiving.

Risk Factors for Adverse Outcomes Due to Family Caregiving.

Sociodemographic factors

Intensity and type of caregiving tasks

Caregivers' perceptions of care recipients' suffering

Caregivers' own health and functioning

Caregivers' social and professional supports

Care recipients' physical home environment (see Table 3-6 )

Evidence for the strength of most of these predictors is mixed and considerable variability exists in study design, methods, and quality of the research. However, accumulating evidence suggests that caregiving intensity (i.e., hours of caregiving per week), gender, relationship to the care recipient (wives are more affected than adult daughters or others), living with the care recipient, and challenging behavioral symptoms in the care recipient are relatively robust predictors of negative psychological effects.

The intensity of caregiving has been found to be a consistent predictor of negative psychological effects in population-based studies. An analysis of the Nurses' Health Study, for example, found that the odds of increasing depressive or anxious symptoms rose with increasing caregiving time commitment ( Cannuscio et al., 2002 ). Women providing care to an ill or disabled spouse 36 hours or more weekly were nearly six times more likely than non-caregivers to report depressive or anxious symptoms. Women who provided 36 hours of care weekly to a parent were two times more likely to report depressive or anxious symptoms than non-caregivers ( Cannuscio et al., 2002 ). A longitudinal analysis of the British Household Panel Survey found that caregivers who provided long hours of care for extended periods of time had increased levels of psychological distress, and that this association was stronger for women than men ( Hirst, 2005 ). The risk for onset of distress increased progressively with the amount of time spent in caregiving each week.

Caregivers who provide high-intensity care are also more likely to make treatment decisions for the care recipient, which the literature suggests may be a unique risk factor for adverse outcomes. In a meta-analysis of 2,854 surrogate decision makers, at least one-third experienced emotional burden as the result of making treatment decisions. Negative effects were often substantial and typically lasted months or, in some cases, years. The most common negative effects were stress, guilt over the decisions they made, and doubt regarding whether they had made the right decisions ( Wendler and Rid, 2011 ).

Female caregivers have been found to experience more psychological distress than males in a meta-analysis ( Pinquart and Sörensen, 2006 ), in an early literature review ( Yee and Schulz, 2000 ), and in a recent systematic review ( Schoenmakers et al., 2010 ). In their meta-analysis of 229 studies, Pinquart and Sörensen (2006) found that women had higher levels of burden and depression and lower levels of subjective well-being than men. Gender differences in depression were partially explained by differences in caregiver stressors, such as more hours of care given per week and a greater number of caregiving tasks performed by women.

Differences in psychological effects also exist across racial and ethnic groups. A meta-analyses of 116 studies showed that African American caregivers had lower levels of burden and depression than non-Hispanic white caregivers, but Hispanic and Asian American caregivers reported more depression than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts ( Pinquart and Sörensen, 2005 ). Similar racial and ethnic differences were reported in a subsequent systematic review of dementia caregiving ( Nápoles et al., 2010 ). Although some data are available on African American and Hispanic caregivers, the literature on racially and ethnically diverse populations has several limitations, including

Few large-scale comparative studies on a spectrum of outcome variables and their predictors with sufficient numbers and statistical power to report outcomes stratified by caregiver race and ethnicity ( Apesoa-Varano et al., 2015 ; Aranda, 2001 );

Few studies that directly compare caregiving in specific groups such as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, American Indians, black Caribbeans, and monolingual Spanish speakers, or the heterogeneity within such groups ( Milne and Chryssanthopoulou, 2005 ; Weiner, 2008 );

Lack of attention to clinically determined caregiver health indicators that go beyond self-report (e.g., clinically diagnosed depressive disorder, objective indicators of functional health status, etc.) ( Hinton, 2002 ; Schulz and Sherwood, 2008 ); and

Minimal attention to racially and ethnically diverse caregivers in a variety of contexts that go beyond dementia-specific caregiving (e.g., frailty, diabetes, brain injury, end-of-life care, etc.) ( Aranda and Knight, 1997 ).

Caregivers who live with the care recipient are at increased risk of adverse outcomes. Schulz and colleagues have shown that these effects are in part explained by the exposure to suffering of the care recipient ( Monin and Schulz, 2009 ; Schulz et al., 2007 , 2009 ). Living with an older adult who is physically or psychologically suffering takes its toll on the caregiver, above and beyond the pragmatic challenges of providing assistance.

Whether an individual has a choice in taking on the caregiving role may also make a difference. Nearly half of all caregivers report that they had no choice in taking on the caregiving role and lack of perceived choice is associated with increased levels of burden and depression ( Reinhard et al., 2012 ; Schulz et al., 2012 ).

Care recipients' behavioral symptoms (e.g., agitation, irritability, combativeness) are also associated with negative effects for caregivers ( Ballard et al. 2000 ; Gitlin et al. 2012 ; Pinquart and Sörensen, 2003 ; Schoenmakers et al., 2010 ; Schulz et al., 1995 ; Torti et al., 2004 ; van der Lee et al., 2014 ). In their examination of multivariate models predicting dementia caregiver burden, depression, and mental health, van der Lee and colleagues (2014) concluded that care recipient behavioral symptoms (e.g., waking up at night, rejecting needed care, agitation, and verbal and physical aggressiveness) were stronger predictors of caregiver burden and depression than the cognitive or functional status of the care recipient. Pinquart and Sörensen (2003) also found that care recipients' behavior problems had a greater impact on caregivers' burden and depression than care recipients' physical and cognitive impairments. Torti and colleagues (2004) reported that behavioral problems are associated with caregiver burden across geographic regions and cultures. Hinton and colleagues (2003) reported that behavioral problems are associated with depressive symptoms among family caregivers of cognitively impaired Latinos but that this association was most pronounced among non-spousal caregivers.

Definitive conclusions about the relative importance of different risk factors should be viewed cautiously, however, because many of these risk factors are correlated with each other, and no studies have examined all of these risk factors simultaneously in a single large population-based study. Nevertheless, existing findings on risk factors can help inform efforts to target caregivers in need of support and shape the type of support provided ( Beach et al., 2005 ).


The committee's key findings and conclusions are described in detail in Box 3-1 . In summary, this chapter raises profound concerns about our dependence on family caregivers to take on increasingly complex and demanding roles. As a society, we have always depended on families to provide emotional support and to assist their older members with household tasks and personal care. In today's health care and social service systems, providers expect family caregivers—with little or no training—to handle daunting technical procedures and equipment for seriously ill care recipients at home. Some family caregivers express concerns about making a life-threatening mistake.

Key Findings and Conclusions: Family Caregivers' Roles and the Impact on Their Mental and Physical Health.

The demands of caregiving appear to be taking a toll on family members on the front lines of supporting older adults. Substantial evidence indicates that family caregivers of older adults are at risk compared to non-caregivers; they have higher rates of depressive symptoms, anxiety, stress, and emotional difficulties. Evidence also suggests that caregivers have lower self-ratings of physical health, elevated levels of stress hormones, higher rates of chronic disease, and impaired health behaviors.

The effects of caregiving are not all negative. Numerous surveys suggest that, for some, caregiving instills confidence, provides lessons on dealing with difficult situations, brings them closer to the care recipient, and assures them that the care recipient is well-cared for. In fact, the caregiving experience and its impact are highly individual and dependent on a wide array of personal and family circumstances such as the caregiver's own health, the care recipient's level of impairment, financial resources, and competing demands from work and family. Gender, the caregiver-care recipient relationship, family dynamics, proximity to the care recipient, race and ethnicity, culture, personal values, and beliefs all play a part.

Few caregiving studies are designed to examine how race and ethnicity, rural residence, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status affect caregivers. If providers and policy makers are to learn how best to support the nation's increasingly diverse aging population, future caregiving research should be sufficiently powered to enable meaningful subgroup analyses.

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See Chapter 2 , Table 2-3 .

Committee calculations.

See Chapter 6 for a discussion of caregivers' interaction with the health care system.

The SF-36 is a 36-item patient-reported survey that is commonly used to assess physical and mental health and quality of life.

  • Cite this Page Committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults; Board on Health Care Services; Health and Medicine Division; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Schulz R, Eden J, editors. Families Caring for an Aging America. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2016 Nov 8. 3, Family Caregiving Roles and Impacts.
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Caregivers: Personal Reflection on the Caregivers’ Role Essay

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I interviewed my caregiver neighbor to understand how well she is coping with end-of-life cancer care. Caregivers can have physical or emotional detrimental effects due to the strain of the demands on them. When I reviewed the interview procedure, I realized that caregivers might be undergoing additional pressure because of their overwhelming responsibility (Kusi et al., 2020). I established that caretakers acknowledged their directness might help others, and they were only too glad to share their stories. Moreover, they valued that the importance of their role was being validated. I noticed caregivers oversaw the ill person, thus providing vital information about the ongoing changes.

However, as a registered nurse, I noticed that the caregivers had a crucial role in their services as their focus was on healing and health. Their attention is not attached to curing and the disease. Through the inevitable pain, caregivers outstand their emotions to provide total support to the ailing individuals. In case of demise, one can see it in their eyes as they are impacted similarly to the family members by the loss.

They maintain hope even in the death beds to the patient and the relatives, which is a vital thing to do in such times. From their reviews, the dying process does not inevitably bring despair. In the case of bereavement, caregivers play a significant role in validating the family’s feelings and showing them empathy. When all this is over, they are expected to give directions and the way forward on how the family can easily cope with the grief.

Caregivers do not know what signs to anticipate and which ones are essential to reporting. Sometimes several signs reflect the advancement of a patient’s mild illness, which the caregivers do not know about (Rolling et al., 2019). However, when they are informed about what to anticipate, I realized they gained a sense of control. The lesson I learned from the interview guides me in attaining a more sympathetic attitude in my practice to serve them better.

Kusi, G., Boamah Mensah, A. B., Boamah Mensah, K., Dzomeku, V. M., Apiribu, F., & Duodu, P. A. (2020). Caregiving motivations and experiences among family caregivers of patients living with advanced breast cancer in Ghana . PloS one, 15 (3).42-55. Web.

Rolling Ferrell, B. and Paice, J., 2019. Oxford textbook of palliative nursing . 5th ed. Oxford University Press, pp.638-654.

  • Hindu Death Rites and Provision of the End-of-Life Care
  • Designing and Validating Technological Interventions
  • End-of-Life Care of Dying Loved Ones
  • Treatment of African Caribbean Female Patient
  • Purnell Model for Chinese Migrant Population
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This 13-Year-Old Caregiver’s Essay Will Amaze You

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On Being a Caregiver: personal reflections

On Being a Caregiver: a personal reflection

For 9 months I was the caregiver for my grandfather after he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  I felt this role was placed upon me when no other family member would step forward to assist him. They had all the excuses to not participate with the care of their dad/grandpa. I felt responsible to help him, as he helped me out many times throughout the years.  It was with the help of my daughter, my sister and my friends at work that I was able to manage. 

This experience has helped me be more compassionate to others with terminal and other illness, and give support and comfort to their family members. 

The most challenging thing for me, I think, was not having control of the disease, the family members, or the outcome of the illness. I found the most difficult time for me was watching my grandfather treat his daughter, who was struggling with her own health issues, so badly. I understand he was angry at his diagnosis, but he didn’t direct his anger appropriately.

I would advise any caregiver to take breaks, NO MATTER WHAT.  You need to get away so you can think clearly. Taking care of yourself is very important.

Now that it is over and in the past, I still feel resentment to the family members who didn’t help and never once said thank you.  I would prefer not to do this again, but I know that I would help anyone who needs help.  Someday I may need to have help myself.

– Anonymous

I was a caregiver for eight years before I started working in long term care.  I worked and cared for a few different families.  My longest care giving was with Mr. Smith for five years.  I looked after him for eight hours a day, seven days a week.

I decided to be a caregiver when I started helping my friends father, with his ADL’s.  It made me feel good to see how I made a difference in his, and his family’s life.  He was so happy to stay at home for as long as he could.  He had a fall and ended up in the hospital for two months.  When he started feeling better, he came home with my help.  His daughter and I were able to keep him happy for five years until he was 94. I always turned for help to Mr. Smiths daughter, and later when his health was declining to the VON and CCAC.

Care giving did change some areas in my life.  I took a different way of thinking.  Life could change for anybody.  Be kind, help when you can and respect others.  It will come back to you.

The most challenging time for me was when the time came and I could not help Mr. Smith anymore.  His health was declining and he could not eat what he liked.  He was having problems swallowing and started choking. I would still care for others when the chance comes.  It makes me feel good knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life when most needed.

My advice for current caregivers is to take it a day at a time.  Be patient, it won’t last forever.  Think positive.  Remind yourself how important you are to people in need at this time.  Take care of yourself too.

I would like to say how I became part of a family.  I looked after two different families and I became a daughter, and sister to both.  I am blessed.  It is seven years later and we are still like sisters and thinking back and re-visiting those days, I feel good knowing that I made a huge difference in their lives when they needed help.

– Barb Morris

I fell into the role of caregiver by virtue of being the oldest daughter of a landed immigrant. Over the years my mother had often relied on me to assist her with her affairs.   As her health deteriorated and I retired from my job  in 2001, the role evolved into becoming her primary guardian.  Although I have two siblings, one younger and one older, due to family circumstances at the time, it fell upon me to take the reins.  Over time, I was able to rely on help from both my sister and brother. My career as teacher and nurturer of young children had afforded me the skills to adapt quite easily into senior care. 

However, the job of caregiver requires one to make a very unselfish commitment of your time.  You must juggle any travel arrangements and personal hobbies around your care giving duties.  The most challenging part of my current situation would be to juggle my time between my mother’s needs and those of the rest of my family.  Time constraints are an even greater issue now, having recently been blessed with two new grandchildren, one of whom I baby-sit regularly two days a week.  The desire to travel to visit the other one is also an issue.  Her acceptance into long-term care took almost a year.  She initially had to be cared for in an interim facility which was adequate but old and cramped.  She is now in a permanent facility with totally dedicated and compassionate care-givers.  However, it is also old and scheduled to close in the future and the hard-working staff is greatly appreciative of any assistance from family and volunteers.  The transition from home to hospital to full-time care was not a smooth one.  Family had to be vigilant and constantly advocate to make it happen.  The process has often been very time-consuming and quite stressful.

Although it has been a challenging situation, I would probably  react the same way, given similar circumstances.  My up-bringing and the nature  of motherhood would dictate my actions. Unfortunately, already being in my sixties and putting personal aspirations aside for an elusive time in the future, sometimes makes the role of care-giver challenging and somewhat bitter-sweet.  My advice would be to always try to make time for yourself and reach out to others for any possible assistance to meet the challenge. 

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Readers respond to essays on young caregivers, digital health, and more

Patrick Skerrett

By Patrick Skerrett June 1, 2024

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T o encourage robust, good-faith discussion about issues raised in First Opinion, STAT publishes selected Letters to the Editor received in response to these essays. Submit a Letter to the Editor here , or find the submission form at the end of any First Opinion essay.

“Digital health: A case of mistaken identity” by Omar Manejwala


This essay is based on a common but misguided assumption that all digital therapeutics are created equal and should be viewed the same way. Commenting on the category, Manejwala writes, “Most digital therapeutic solutions are not intended to be replacements for medications. Instead, they do what medications never could: influence the behaviors and habits of those who use them.”

Not all digital therapeutics act through behavioral mechanisms. One area Manejwala does not mention is ophthalmology, where clinical studies have proven the efficacy of digital therapeutics in improving vision for patients with amblyopia, the leading cause of vision loss in children. These treatments work by delivering therapeutic visual stimuli to the brain, have been proven in multiple clinical trials to improve vision, and are currently being prescribed through a pharmacy by ophthalmologists across the U.S.

Just as we wouldn’t compare an oncology drug to an eye drop, it is far-reaching to assume that all prescription digital therapeutics are the same. It would be more responsible to evaluate each new technology on its own merits.

— Scott Xiao, Luminopia

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article.

I work in a facility where we are trying to deploy digital innovations to help manage chronic conditions, particularly hypertension, diabetes, and mental health. In my experience, sustained behavioral change and habits that will drive good health outcomes should be on the part of both patients and health care providers .Health care workers are yet to fully appreciate and deploy these tools to help their patients.

Patients are also yet to fully understand and utilize and pay for these tools for their well-being. The identity crisis is on both sides.

I am yet to fully appreciate what companies of these tools position them in my setting.

We hope to get there soon in Sub-Saharan Africa.

— Emmanuel Amoah, University of Ghana Medical Center

“Caring for young caregivers, a hidden population” by Kimia Heydari and Romila Santra

This essay on caring for young caregivers, a hidden population, reminded me of my own family. My parents were deaf and very independent, but my mother was very sick when I was growing up. I had to do multiple things, including translating from hearing people calling on the phone to my parents talking on the phone with companies when I was young. My brother and sister and I had to grow up fast. My mother died when I was 14 years old and my sister died when I was 9 years old.

Darryl Blackwell, public sector professional

“Addressing health care workers’ trauma can help fight burnout” by Sadie Elisseou

Sadie: this is such a powerful story about health care workers, especially trauma care workers. Those amazing warriors see it all, around the clock, every day.

God love all of them!

— Sean McDowell, North Las Vegas

“Pandemic lessons must spur federal action to protect nursing home residents” by Julie K. Taitsman and Nancy Harrison

There are countless things CMS could do to protect vulnerable older adults in nursing homes beyond the fascination with staffing hours. The billing complexity for vaccination services for residents, based on whether or not they are in their skilled stay is one example. Depending on the vaccine, it may require pharmacy billing or nursing home billing, it may be covered or not covered, and who administers and reports the vaccination may differ. Staff members may not be able to be vaccinated when services are being provided by the nursing home. They may be required to go off site and elsewhere. We may lose them when they are ready to receive it.

CMS spends far too much time mandating and punishing and far too little time working alongside nursing homes to make the systems easier and more effective.

— Chad Worz, PharmD

About the Author Reprints

Patrick skerrett.

Acting First Opinion Editor

Patrick Skerrett is filling in as editor of First Opinion , STAT's platform for perspective and opinion on the life sciences writ large, and host of the First Opinion Podcast .

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Answer: Epilepsy Question 2: Determines if the patient in the scenario has epilepsy. Answer: J.G. does not have epilepsy. She has only had three previous cases of seizures prior to which she had not experienced any seizures. The current cases were triggered by the cesarean section thus too early to refer to the condition as epilepsy (Ko, 2016).

Question 3: Identifies possible conditions, besides brain injury, that contributes to the lowered seizure threshold for the patient in the scenario.

Answer: Apart from brain injury, lowered seizure threshold can occur as a result of infectious illnesses such as AIDS, meningitis as well as developmental disorders such as neurofibromatosis and autism (Ko, 2016).

Question 4: Describes the pathophysiology of a seizure.

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Out of the Centre

Savvino-storozhevsky monastery and museum.

Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery and Museum

Zvenigorod's most famous sight is the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery, which was founded in 1398 by the monk Savva from the Troitse-Sergieva Lavra, at the invitation and with the support of Prince Yury Dmitrievich of Zvenigorod. Savva was later canonised as St Sabbas (Savva) of Storozhev. The monastery late flourished under the reign of Tsar Alexis, who chose the monastery as his family church and often went on pilgrimage there and made lots of donations to it. Most of the monastery’s buildings date from this time. The monastery is heavily fortified with thick walls and six towers, the most impressive of which is the Krasny Tower which also serves as the eastern entrance. The monastery was closed in 1918 and only reopened in 1995. In 1998 Patriarch Alexius II took part in a service to return the relics of St Sabbas to the monastery. Today the monastery has the status of a stauropegic monastery, which is second in status to a lavra. In addition to being a working monastery, it also holds the Zvenigorod Historical, Architectural and Art Museum.

Belfry and Neighbouring Churches

caregiver essay

Located near the main entrance is the monastery's belfry which is perhaps the calling card of the monastery due to its uniqueness. It was built in the 1650s and the St Sergius of Radonezh’s Church was opened on the middle tier in the mid-17th century, although it was originally dedicated to the Trinity. The belfry's 35-tonne Great Bladgovestny Bell fell in 1941 and was only restored and returned in 2003. Attached to the belfry is a large refectory and the Transfiguration Church, both of which were built on the orders of Tsar Alexis in the 1650s.  

caregiver essay

To the left of the belfry is another, smaller, refectory which is attached to the Trinity Gate-Church, which was also constructed in the 1650s on the orders of Tsar Alexis who made it his own family church. The church is elaborately decorated with colourful trims and underneath the archway is a beautiful 19th century fresco.

Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral

caregiver essay

The Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral is the oldest building in the monastery and among the oldest buildings in the Moscow Region. It was built between 1404 and 1405 during the lifetime of St Sabbas and using the funds of Prince Yury of Zvenigorod. The white-stone cathedral is a standard four-pillar design with a single golden dome. After the death of St Sabbas he was interred in the cathedral and a new altar dedicated to him was added.

caregiver essay

Under the reign of Tsar Alexis the cathedral was decorated with frescoes by Stepan Ryazanets, some of which remain today. Tsar Alexis also presented the cathedral with a five-tier iconostasis, the top row of icons have been preserved.

Tsaritsa's Chambers

caregiver essay

The Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral is located between the Tsaritsa's Chambers of the left and the Palace of Tsar Alexis on the right. The Tsaritsa's Chambers were built in the mid-17th century for the wife of Tsar Alexey - Tsaritsa Maria Ilinichna Miloskavskaya. The design of the building is influenced by the ancient Russian architectural style. Is prettier than the Tsar's chambers opposite, being red in colour with elaborately decorated window frames and entrance.

caregiver essay

At present the Tsaritsa's Chambers houses the Zvenigorod Historical, Architectural and Art Museum. Among its displays is an accurate recreation of the interior of a noble lady's chambers including furniture, decorations and a decorated tiled oven, and an exhibition on the history of Zvenigorod and the monastery.

Palace of Tsar Alexis

caregiver essay

The Palace of Tsar Alexis was built in the 1650s and is now one of the best surviving examples of non-religious architecture of that era. It was built especially for Tsar Alexis who often visited the monastery on religious pilgrimages. Its most striking feature is its pretty row of nine chimney spouts which resemble towers.

caregiver essay

Location approximately 2km west of the city centre
Website Monastery - http://savvastor.ru Museum - http://zvenmuseum.ru/

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The Unique Burial of a Child of Early Scythian Time at the Cemetery of Saryg-Bulun (Tuva)

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Pages:  379-406

In 1988, the Tuvan Archaeological Expedition (led by M. E. Kilunovskaya and V. A. Semenov) discovered a unique burial of the early Iron Age at Saryg-Bulun in Central Tuva. There are two burial mounds of the Aldy-Bel culture dated by 7th century BC. Within the barrows, which adjoined one another, forming a figure-of-eight, there were discovered 7 burials, from which a representative collection of artifacts was recovered. Burial 5 was the most unique, it was found in a coffin made of a larch trunk, with a tightly closed lid. Due to the preservative properties of larch and lack of air access, the coffin contained a well-preserved mummy of a child with an accompanying set of grave goods. The interred individual retained the skin on his face and had a leather headdress painted with red pigment and a coat, sewn from jerboa fur. The coat was belted with a leather belt with bronze ornaments and buckles. Besides that, a leather quiver with arrows with the shafts decorated with painted ornaments, fully preserved battle pick and a bow were buried in the coffin. Unexpectedly, the full-genomic analysis, showed that the individual was female. This fact opens a new aspect in the study of the social history of the Scythian society and perhaps brings us back to the myth of the Amazons, discussed by Herodotus. Of course, this discovery is unique in its preservation for the Scythian culture of Tuva and requires careful study and conservation.

Keywords: Tuva, Early Iron Age, early Scythian period, Aldy-Bel culture, barrow, burial in the coffin, mummy, full genome sequencing, aDNA

Information about authors: Marina Kilunovskaya (Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation). Candidate of Historical Sciences. Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Dvortsovaya Emb., 18, Saint Petersburg, 191186, Russian Federation E-mail: [email protected] Vladimir Semenov (Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation). Candidate of Historical Sciences. Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Dvortsovaya Emb., 18, Saint Petersburg, 191186, Russian Federation E-mail: [email protected] Varvara Busova  (Moscow, Russian Federation).  (Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation). Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Dvortsovaya Emb., 18, Saint Petersburg, 191186, Russian Federation E-mail:  [email protected] Kharis Mustafin  (Moscow, Russian Federation). Candidate of Technical Sciences. Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.  Institutsky Lane, 9, Dolgoprudny, 141701, Moscow Oblast, Russian Federation E-mail:  [email protected] Irina Alborova  (Moscow, Russian Federation). Candidate of Biological Sciences. Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.  Institutsky Lane, 9, Dolgoprudny, 141701, Moscow Oblast, Russian Federation E-mail:  [email protected] Alina Matzvai  (Moscow, Russian Federation). Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.  Institutsky Lane, 9, Dolgoprudny, 141701, Moscow Oblast, Russian Federation E-mail:  [email protected]

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    Many students find writing essays to be quite difficult, mainly because there are so many laws and regulations that need to be followed. In my view, anyone looking for advice on how to take their online nursing papers review to the next level should definitely check out Nerdy Writers. A number of my friends have already used this platform to get help with law essays, and they have all raved ...

  21. Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery and Museum

    Zvenigorod's most famous sight is the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery, which was founded in 1398 by the monk Savva from the Troitse-Sergieva Lavra, at the invitation and with the support of Prince Yury Dmitrievich of Zvenigorod. Savva was later canonised as St Sabbas (Savva) of Storozhev. The monastery late flourished under the reign of Tsar ...

  22. D-Day's 80th Anniversary Might Be the Last for Many WWII Veterans

    By Catherine Porter. Catherine Porter traveled across Normandy, from Deauville to Ste.-Mère-Église for this story. She also went to Hemet, Calif. June 4, 2024. For many, it will be the last big ...

  23. Elektrostal

    In 1938, it was granted town status. [citation needed]Administrative and municipal status. Within the framework of administrative divisions, it is incorporated as Elektrostal City Under Oblast Jurisdiction—an administrative unit with the status equal to that of the districts. As a municipal division, Elektrostal City Under Oblast Jurisdiction is incorporated as Elektrostal Urban Okrug.

  24. Elektrostal

    Elektrostal. Elektrostal ( Russian: Электроста́ль) is a city in Moscow Oblast, Russia. It is 58 kilometers (36 mi) east of Moscow. As of 2010, 155,196 people lived there.

  25. The Unique Burial of a Child of Early Scythian Time at the Cemetery of

    Burial 5 was the most unique, it was found in a coffin made of a larch trunk, with a tightly closed lid. Due to the preservative properties of larch and lack of air access, the coffin contained a well-preserved mummy of a child with an accompanying set of grave goods. The interred individual retained the skin on his face and had a leather ...