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Caring for the Caregiver

Why Caregivers Need Care

Some people who provide care for an elder do not realize that everything they do is part of caregiving. They may say, "This is just what families do for each other," or "This is what friends are for." However true these statements are, they tend to mask the value of the care (for the elder and the community at large) and the significant toll that this work can take.

For many caregivers, the errands, tasks, and daily care they provide are rewarding and based on feelings of love and attachment to the person they are caring for. For most elders, the care they receive enhances their health and well-being and brings comfort, companionship, practical help, and safety. The Caring for Your Parents handout The Joys of Caregiving (PDF) outlines some of the benefits caregivers experience.

However, caring for elders can be very stressful, physically and psychologically. Taking on the responsibility for someone else's affairs, dealing with doctors and insurance companies, finding appropriate and affordable resources, and attending to daily meals, dressing, bathing, or even just providing company can be time-consuming, exhausting, and challenging. Elders may make your job as a caregiver more difficult by being uncooperative, demanding, or bad-tempered. Their frustration, sadness, and fears about being ill, dependent on you for care, or otherwise impaired, may be expressed as anger, irritability, or anxiety.

Caregiving can involve considerable sacrifice on the part of caregivers. Some have to take a leave from work. Some retire early. Others feel constant conflicts between job responsibilities and the demands of caring for family at home. Many baby boomers are now part of the "sandwich" generation—caught between caring for young children and aging parents—and find the demands of both overwhelming.

Caring for an elder can be a very isolating experience, especially for those who have limited help or are the sole caregiver for an elder who cannot be left alone for long periods of time. But you are not alone. There are support systems to help you meet the challenges of providing eldercare—short-term or long—term.

Continue to Learning Caregiving Skills...