Tips for taking care of yourself as a caregiver

Caregiving is a rewarding yet challenging job. Learn to take care of your needs and your loved one will benefit as well.

A young woman smiling and hugging an older woman.
Photo: Pexels/Danik Prihodko.

Family caregiving is more common than you may think. One out of five adults in the United States are the family caregiver of a loved one. According to Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, a study published by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, about 53 million adults are family caregivers. This is an increase from 43.5 million family caregivers in 2015. Almost 48 million caregivers provided care for an adult with an illness or disability in the past 12 months, and 24 percent cared for more than one person.

In addition to their caregiving duties, most caregivers are employed. Caregivers also tend to have responsibilities for other family members, such as children. In fact, Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 states that about 61 percent of caregivers are in the age range of 25 to 54 years old. This makes them part of the sandwich generation – caring for younger and older family members.

It is estimated that caregivers spend on average 25.8 hours per week helping their loved one with tasks such as assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), like shopping, food preparation, housekeeping, laundry, transportation, administering medications, coordinating doctor’s appointments and managing finances.

Being a caregiver can be extremely rewarding, but it also comes with a significant amount of ongoing chronic stress. Studies report higher levels of depression and mental health problems among caregivers than among non-caregivers. Caregivers are at a higher risk for mental, emotional and physical problems, particularly for caregivers that are providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Caregivers are more likely to experience emotional, mental and physical problems as well as financial strain.

If you are a caregiver, make taking care of yourself a priority. When you focus on your needs, you will be better able to take care of your loved ones. Here are tips from the Caregiver Action Network:

  • Reach out to other caregivers for support.
  • Engage in self-care. Do not forget to take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of others.
  • Ask people for help when needed and accept offers of help. Have a list of specific things people can do to help you.
  • Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors and other healthcare providers.
  • Watch out for signs of depression and do not delay getting professional help when you need it.
  • Take respite breaks when needed, because caregiving is challenging work.
  • Keep medical information in order so it is up to date and easy to find.
  • Make sure legal documents are in order.
  • Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is.

Michigan State University Extension offers programs and resources that support caregivers' mental health and well-being, such as Powerful Tools for Caregivers, Caring for the Caregiver and Stress Less with Mindfulness. If you are interested in learning more about our other programs or would like to register for one, visit our online self-referral form.

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