Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.
Information from Your Family Doctor
When You Are the Caregiver
Am Fam Physician. 2000 Dec 15;62(12):2621-2622.
See related article on caring for caregivers.
Who is a caregiver?
You're a caregiver if you give basic care to a person who has a chronic medical condition. A chronic condition is an illness that doesn't go away.
Some types of basic care are helping with bathing, dressing and feeding. Helping with household chores like cleaning, cooking and shopping is also basic care. Many people with chronic medical conditions like cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis or dementia (Alzheimer's disease) need extra help.
If you're a caregiver, you might be doing these things for another person:
Turning them in bed
Making them smile or laugh
Crying with them
Paying their bills
How can I tell if caregiving is putting too much stress on me?
You may be feeling sad or blue. You may be crying more often than before. You may not have the energy level you used to have. You may feel like you don't have any time to yourself. You may not be seeing friends or relatives as often as you used to. You may have trouble sleeping, or you may not feel like getting out of bed in the morning. You may have trouble eating or you may be eating too much. You may notice you've lost interest in your hobbies or the things you used to do with friends or family. You may become angry with the person you are caring for or angry at other people or situations. You may ask yourself “why me?”
You may not get any thanks from the person you are caring for. This may add to your feelings of frustration.
Why is caring for someone with dementia (Alzheimer's disease) so hard?
The person you're caring for may not know you any more. That person may be too ill to talk or follow simple plans. This may make it hard for you to think of that person the same way.
The person you're caring for may have behavior problems, like yelling, hitting and wandering away from home. This behavior may make you feel angry at times.
What should I do if I'm feeling overwhelmed and have some of the signs mentioned above?
These feelings are not wrong or strange. Caregiving can be very stressful. Because being a caregiver is so hard, some doctors think of caregivers as “hidden patients.” If you don't take care of yourself and stay well, you won't be able to help anyone else. Talk with your family doctor and discuss your feelings. Stay in touch with your friends and family members. Ask them for help in giving care. You're not a failure because you ask for help.
Look for help in your community. Start by asking your church or synagogue if they have services or volunteers who can help you. You also can ask for help from the organizations listed below.
Where can I find out about community services that can give me help or information?
This is a nationwide service for finding area agencies on aging. These agencies can help you find services such as adult day care, home aids and social workers in your area.
National Administration of Aging
Web address: http://www.aoa.gov
American Association of Retired Persons
They have a free caregiver resource kit (ask for No. D15267).
National Family Caregivers Association
Web address: http://www.nfcacares.org
Children of Aging Parents
Web address: http://www.caps4caregivers.org
The Well Spouse Foundation
Web address: http://www.wellspouse.org
Web address: http://www.careguide.net
This Web site is a personal resource for caregivers.
Web address: http://www.caregiving.com
This Web site offers online support through a newsletter.
Web address: http://www.caregiverzone.com
This Web site offers information for family caregivers, seniors and others.
Is there a resource just for caregivers of people with dementia (Alzheimer's disease)?
Web address: http://www.alz.org
This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.
Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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