Health Blog

Life as a Caregiver

Caregiving often sneaks up on you. First, it starts by simply dropping by your mom's house to do her laundry or taking your dad to a doctor's appointment. Then, you might find yourself grocery shopping and refilling prescriptions. Slowly, you are doing more and more, and at some point, you’ll realize you have committed to taking care of someone else.

Life as a Caregiver

Caregiving often sneaks up on you. First, it starts by simply dropping by your mom's house to do her laundry or taking your dad to a doctor's appointment. Then, you might find yourself grocery shopping and refilling prescriptions. Slowly, you are doing more and more, and at some point, you’ll realize you have committed to taking care of someone else. Caregiving is sometimes triggered by a stroke, heart attack, or accident. Perhaps you suddenly realize that your dad's memory lapses have become dangerous. Life as you know it stops, and now you find yourself putting all of your energy towards caring for your loved one.

Caregiving 101

Caregivers can be anyone: spouses, partners, adult children, parents, other relatives such as siblings, aunts, nieces/nephews, in-laws, grandchildren, friends, or neighbors. Whatever your relationship may be with the person you're caring for, you must add the title “Caregiver” to the list of things that define who you are. Caregivers can play other roles, as well. You might be employed full or part-time. You may be raising children of your own or volunteer at a local charity. Maybe you are a spouse or have other family commitments. Adding caregiving to your long list of to-dos can certainly lead to frustration and exhaustion. You may even start living a double life. You know, navigating social service systems, calling doctors while you're at work, advocating for the care receiver, and taking care of their day-to-day needs, all while trying to do some of the same things for yourself and your family.
As a caregiver, you are rarely trained to do the broad range of tasks you are asked to do. A lack of training can lead to unwanted injuries like a back strain because you haven't been properly taught on how to transfer someone from bed to chair correctly or wheelchair to the car. Or you find yourself battling with your mom who has Alzheimer's Disease because you have not learned the necessary skills to communicate with someone with cognitive impairment.
If you're a caregiver, it's normal that you buy groceries, cook, clean the house, do laundry, and provide transportation. Also, help your loved one with getting dressed, bathing, and taking their medicine. Transferring them out of bed, helping with physical therapy, performing medical interventions like injections, feeding tubes, wound treatment, or breathing treatments. Other responsibilities include arranging their medical appointments, driving them to the doctor, sitting it on their appointments, talking with their doctors and nurses, monitoring prescriptions, handling finances, and other legal matters. Lastly, being on call 24/7 and merely being a companion.

Caring for Yourself When Caring for Another

Self-care isn't selfish. You are a caregiver if you care for someone who needs help. Caregiving can be hard on you despite the great sense of reward you may feel. To continue being a good caregiver, you need to take care of yourself. One way you can do this is to make sure you have consistent breaks from your caregiving responsibilities, called respite care. Short breaks can be a crucial part of maintaining your own health. Respite care allows the caregiver some time off from their caregiving responsibilities. It can be different types of services in the home, adult day care, or even short-term nursing home care so caregivers can have a break or even go on vacation. Research shows that even a few hours of respite a week can improve a caregiver's well-being. Anyone can provide respite care, such as family, friends, a nonprofit group, or a government agency.

Help from Family & Friends
If you choose help from family and friends, make your needs known. Here are some suggestions for getting help from people you know:
1. Identify a caregiving task or a block of time that you would like help with. Perhaps there's a book club meeting you'd like to go to that you've been missing because of your caregiving responsibilities. Be ready when someone says, "What can I do to help?" with a specific time or task, such as, "It would be beneficial for me if you could stay with Mom Tuesday night so I can go to my book club for 2 hours."
2. Be understanding if you are turned down. The person may not help with that specific request, but they may help another time. Don't be afraid to ask again.
3. If you have trouble asking for help face to face, try writing an e-mail to your friends and family members about your needs. Set up a shared online calendar or scheduling tool where people can sign up to provide you with regular respite.
Help from Medical Professionals
Does your doctor know you are a caregiver? You have special needs as a caregiver that your doctor should be aware of. Be sure to let your doctor know if your caregiving responsibilities are making you feel depressed or anxious. Health care professionals may also know about support groups offered in the community. Let your doctor (or your care recipient's doctor) know that you need help finding respite care. A doctor may be able to write you a "prescription" for respite services via Medicare's PACE program.
Help from Nonprofits and Government Agencies
Here's how to get back some of your "me time" using nonprofit organizations or government agencies. An excellent source for respite services is the Area Agencies on Aging. Other resources include organizations that advocate for people with specific diseases. If you care for someone with Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, cancer, or lung disease, respite care services may be available from the following organizations: Alzheimer's Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association. The National Respite Locator is a resource that can help you find adult day care and other respite services near you. Take advantage of CDC's free Complete Care Plan and other caregiver resources.
If you're still not able to catch a break, consider joining an online support group. It would help if you had an opportunity to share your experiences with others in similar circumstances and to get support and new resources from them. For example, Resource Center. offers key resources to help you better navigate caregiving and access to online support groups, such as the Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Group.

Remember—To be an effective caregiver, you must take care of yourself. Your care recipient is counting on you.

COVID-19 & Caregiving

Two out of every three caregivers in the US are women, meaning they provide daily or regular support to children, adults, or people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Women who are caregivers have a greater risk for poor physical and mental health, including depression and anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic can add even more stressors to caregiving. Here are some tips to help you manage caring for yourself and others.
Feeling Stressed, Anxious, or Depressed
As a caregiver, taking care of yourself and getting the help you need is essential. Taking care includes maintaining healthy behaviors, managing stress, and seeking extra support, especially during COVID-19.
Maintain Healthy Behaviors
• Take steps to protect yourself and others against COVID-19.
• Eat foods that are safe and healthy.
• Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
• Exercise regularly.
• Get plenty of sleep.
Manage Stress
• Take breaks from watching, listening, or reading news stories or social media postings about COVID-19.
• Make time to unwind. Take a walk or do an activity you enjoy.
• Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
Seek Extra Support
• You are not alone. Support groups provide a safe place for people in similar situations to find comfort.
• Recognize when you may need more help. If stress or negative thoughts get in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row, talk to a professional counselor.
Caring for Older Adults
Most caregivers of older adults are women over age 50. Female caregivers report having more physical and mental distress and poor health compared to male caregivers. Managing your own health while caring for an older adult can be challenging. Be sure to check for respite services in your local area so that you can take a break, rest, and recharge as needed. Older adults are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, so it's crucial to create a plan to protect them. A care plan describes what you will do if you become unable to care for your older family member. A care plan includes a contact list of family, friends, neighbors, and local service agencies that can provide caregiving support if you are ill or not available. For example, a backup caregiver should ideally not be someone at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Because of COVID-19, you may be unable to visit the older person you usually care for if they are in a hospital or nursing home. Ask the facility staff if they can help you reach out to them by phone, video chat, text, or sending cards or letters.
Here are some other tips to help you when caring for older adults:
• Take extra steps to protect older adults and people with medical conditions from getting sick.
• Limit trips outside the home except for essential errands such as going to the grocery store, pharmacy or seeking medical care. Keep canned, packaged, or frozen foods, cleaning supplies, and EPA-approved disinfecting products at home to limit trips to the grocery store.
• Try to keep extra supplies of medications and other necessities such as oxygen, incontinence supplies (pads or disposable underwear), thermometers, wound care (antiseptics, bandages, and gauze), and other medical supplies for older adults in your care.


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