The Basics: Overview
When you’re taking care of a loved one, it’s important to care for yourself, too. The emotional and physical stress of being a caregiver can cause health problems — so get the support you need to take care of your own health.
What is a caregiver?
A caregiver is someone who helps a family member, friend, or neighbor who is sick or has a disability. An informal or family caregiver often helps a loved one with basic daily tasks.
You may be a caregiver if you regularly help someone with:
- Grocery shopping and cooking
- Getting dressed
- Taking and keeping track of medicine
- Medical care, like keeping wounds clean or giving shots
- Transportation, like car rides to appointments
- Managing personal services, like talking to doctors or paying bills
About 1 in 5 adults in the United States are caregivers. Most caregivers also have other jobs, and about 1 in 3 spend at least 20 hours a week caring for a loved one.
The Basics: Caregiver Stress
The stress of caregiving can lead to health problems.
When you’re caring for a loved one, it can be hard to take care of your own health. Caregivers are more at risk of getting sick — like with a cold or the flu. They’re also more likely to have long-term health problems — like arthritis, diabetes, or depression.
You may have caregiver stress if you:
- Feel angry or sad
- Feel like taking care of your loved one is more than you can handle
- Feel like you don’t have time to care for yourself
- Sleep too much or too little
- Notice a change in your eating habits
- Lose interest in things you used to enjoy
The good news is that you can lower your risk for health problems if you take care of yourself and get support.
Take Action: Physical Health
Take care of your body.
Caregiving can be stressful, and stress can lead to problems like back pain and trouble sleeping. Taking care of yourself will give you the energy and strength to handle the demands of caregiving.
Here are some ways to take care of your body:
- Eat healthy to keep your body strong. Making healthy food choices will help protect you from heart disease, bone loss, and high blood pressure. Learn how to eat healthy.
- Get active to give you more energy. Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like walking fast or dancing. And try to do muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week. Find out how to get active.
- Take steps to prevent back pain, like keeping your back straight and bending your knees when you lift something heavy. Get tips for preventing back pain.
- Make sure you get enough sleep. Most adults need 7 or more hours of sleep each night. Learn how to get enough sleep.
Take Action: Mental Health
Take care of your mental health.
It’s important to take care of your mental health, too — like by managing stress. Here are some ways to care for your mental health:
- Find ways to manage stress. You can start by taking a few slow, deep breaths. Get more tips for managing stress.
- Do something for yourself! Set aside time each day to do something you enjoy. Try reading, listening to music, or talking to a friend.
- Ask a neighbor to visit with your loved one while you take a walk.
- Get support from others to help you cope with the emotional stress of caregiving.
It can also help to hear from other people who are caring for a loved one — their experiences may be similar to yours. Check out these stories from other caregivers.
Take Action: Get Support
Ask for help.
You don’t need to do it all yourself. Ask family members, friends, and neighbors to share caregiving tasks.
There are also professional and volunteer services that can help. For example, you can:
- Check out these community-based services for older adults and caregivers — like transportation, meals, and caregiver support programs
- Find respite services near you that can give you a break from caregiving
- Learn about services and support groups for caregivers of Veterans
If you’re taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease:
- Find resources for Alzheimer’s caregivers
- Call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900
It’s also a good idea to learn about preparing for future health care needs.
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk with your doctor about depression.