The Emotional Side of Caregiving

(Family Caregiver Alliance) Whether you become a caregiver gradually or all of sudden due to a crisis, or whether you are a caregiver willingly or by default, many emotions surface when you take on the job of caregiving. Some of these feelings happen right away and some don’t surface until you have been caregiving for awhile. Whatever your situation, it is important to remember that you, too, are important. All of your emotions, good and bad, about caregiving are not only allowed, but valid and important.

Many feelings come up when you are caring for someone day in and day out. Many caregivers set out saying, “This won’t happen to me. I love my mother, father, husband, wife, sister, brother, friend, etc.” But after awhile, the “negative” emotions that we tend to want to bury or pretend we aren’t feeling come up. Caregivers are often reluctant to express these negative feelings for fear they will be judged by others (or judge themselves) or don’t want to burden others with their problems.

If you don’t deal with ALL of your emotions, they can be like a two year old who wants your attention: they will keep tugging at you until you stop and acknowledge them. Not paying attention to your feelings can lead to poor sleep, illness, trouble coping, stress eating, substance abuse, etc.  When you admit to your feelings, you can then find productive ways to express them and deal with them, so that you and the care receiver can cope better in the future.

This fact sheet will identify some of the common, often hard to admit, feelings that caregivers experience. Once identified, suggestions for how you might better cope with these feelings are offered.

If only we were perfect we would not feel:

Ambivalence: This is the feeling of both wanting to be doing what you are doing and the feeling of not wanting to be doing it. On bad days, one often has the feeling of wishing you didn’t have to be there, that this ordeal will be over soon. On good days, caring for someone can be a gift to both you and the care receiver.

Coping: Allow yourself to feel both sets of feelings. Everyone has these feelings sometimes. Neither the bad feelings nor the good ones will last forever.

Anger:  How often have you “lost it” while providing care?  Or felt like you were on your last nerve? Anger and frustration are a normal part of being around someone who needs help on an ongoing basis and who might not be accepting of help. Caring for someone with dementia, in particular, can be even harder, as the care receiver can be irrational and combative. It’s not always possible to be in perfect control of your emotions.  Anger “just comes out” sometimes.

Coping: Forgive yourself.  Find constructive ways to express yourself, learn to walk away and give yourself a “time out.” Identify supportive people you can talk to who will listen as you vent about the things that happened that day.

Anxiety: Feeling like things are out of control and not knowing how to bring them back into control often produces feelings of anxiousness. Anxiety can emerge as a short fuse, the impulse to run away, not sleeping, heart palpitations or the urge to cry.

Coping: Pay attention to your anxiety—it is our body’s early warning system that something isn’t right. When you feel anxious: Stop. Breathe. Keep breathing. Pray. Meditate. Make some tea. Anything that will give you a break from what is happening in the moment.

Boredom:  It is easy to become bored when you are stuck at home taking care of someone else and not doing things that fulfill your own wants and needs. And by the end of the day, you are often too tired to pursue something of interest to you.

Coping: Respite can help.  Getting a break from caregiving and having some time for yourself will not only increase your patience and resilience but will give you a chance to do something that is meaningful to you, whether it is socializing, going for a walk or reading a good book.

Crankiness, Irritablility:  When tired and stressed, it is harder to stay in control of the things we say and feel.  Feelings can go up and down very rapidly.  We can lash out at the littlest thing because we have no reserve.

Coping: If you find yourself feeling cranky and irritable, you probably need a break.You also may need to get some rest, as we are in less control when tired. Often we will turn to alcohol or our favorite junk food  to reward ourselves when feeling this way.  It’s more beneficial to keep  a journal or talk with a friend or professional to let off steam.

Depression/Sadness: As a caregiver, you are at risk for depression. Sometimes this is  feeling hopeless or helpless, the inability to sleep or trouble getting up and facing the day. And sometimes it makes you want to cry. (See FCA Fact Sheet Depression and Caregiving.)

Coping: Depression is treatable and should be taken seriously.  Professional help is available.  Talk to your physician if you think you might be depressed, join a caregiver support group, find a counselor who understands care-giving and ask for help from friends and family. Exercise.  Moving your body is a proven way to relieve some of the symptoms of depression.

Disgust: Having to help toilet someone can be too intimate an experience for many caregivers.  If the care receiver is incontinent of stool as well as urine, then changing an adult diaper can be nauseating and repulsive.  Having to clean the private parts of someone, like a parent, can be unnerving and uncomfortable. Watching someone eat sloppily or not care for personal appearance, or having to clean up vomit can also cause feelings of disgust.

Coping: The hardest thing about accepting our revulsion to these things is that the care receiver is not in control of these behaviors. But sometimes we think they are doing it on purpose just to get us. Or we feel guilty because we think we should be accepting but we are not. Finding ways to minimize your need to do personal care is vital to weathering your caregiver journey, which could stretch on for years. Hire an attendant to do routine care or have someone from the family do these things who might cope better. Also, learn tricks to make tasks easier (e.g. during meal times consider using a spoon that is designed to be spill resistant.)

An occupational therapist can help you find this tool and other tools to make meal time easier and more enjoyable for both of you. It’s important to know that when it comes to incontinence, you are not alone. Incontinence is one of the main reasons given for placing someone in a facility. There are resources to aid you in dealing with bathroom problems, like a Webinar entitled Moving Beyond the Leakages: Practical Strategies to Manage Incontinence or a segment from our Caregiver College Video Series on our Video Channel. (Both of these resources are in the Caregiver Education section on our website.)

Embarrassment: Does your care receiver make impolite comments when you are out in public? Does he or she need to use the restroom right away and make a scene as you try to find one?  Does he or she refuse to bathe and now have body odor? It is easy for us to feel responsible for the behavior of someone else and feel like it is our fault when these things happen.

Coping: Some people create cards (similar to business cards) which read, “My loved one has dementia and can no longer control their behavior” which they hand  out to those around them when they are having trouble, especially in restaurants. Some people just stop leaving the house because this is such a difficult problem to manage, it’s  easier to stay home. Others have friends,family members or an attendant accompany them when they go out to offer assistance, when needed.

Fear: What if something happens? Will I be able to cope? Will I feel guilty? Am I responsible for things that go wrong? Caregivers take on a huge amount of responsibility, not only for the day to day care of the care receiver, but also for all the other things that “might” happen while being a caregiver.  Scaring ourselves about the “what ifs” can be paralyzing and keep us from enjoying the “what is.”

Coping:  It is important to have contingency plans. So, it might make sense to have a back up caregiver in mind in case something should happen to you, or to think about how you would handle predictable medical emergencies based on what disabilities your care receiver has. When you get scared, it is often helpful to talk to someone who knows your situation and can give you perspective and calm your fears.

Frustration: Frustration is part of many other feelings, such as ambivalence, anger and impatience. Sometimes, as a caregiver, you feel that you can’t do anything right or that things just don’t go as planned no matter what you do or how hard you try. And if you are tired, you are more likely to get frustrated. Frustration may lead to stress eating, substance abuse, and a higher likelihood of losing your temper.

Coping: Acknowledge how frustrating caregiving can be.  Join a support groupto learn the tricks other caregivers have learned to make coping easier. Get breaks from caregiving so you have time for YOU and a chance to refresh your energy.  Exercise. Sleep.

Grief: Watching the care receiver decline, not being able to do things that used to be easy and natural is sad.  We also grieve for the care receiver, the person who used to be and our relationship with that person. We often need to grieve the loss we are experiencing on a daily basis or it will come out as something else.

Coping: Sometimes creating a ritual can be helpful. One caregiver would write on a piece of paper the things her husband could no longer do, then  go to the ocean and throw the pieces in the water as a way of letting go. We tend to want to avoid the sadness that comes with grief, but allowing ourselves to feel (it) promotes healing. (See FCA Fact Sheet Grief and Loss.)

Guilt: Guilt is the feeling we have when we do something wrong.  Guilt in caring for care receivers comes in many forms.  There is guilt over not having done enough to have prevented them from getting sick in the first place. There is guilt over feeling like you want this to end. Or guilt over having been impatient with your care receiver too much. There is guilt over not loving or even liking the care receiver at times. There is guilt over not doing enough for the care receiver or not doing a good enough job as a caregiver. And if the care receiver falls or something else happens, there is guilt about it being your fault that it happened. And sometimes caregivers feel guilty about thinking of their own needs and see themselves as selfish, especially if they should do something like go to a movie or out to lunch with a friend.

Coping: You need permission to forgive yourself. You can’t be perfect 24/7. It’s impossible to be in perfect control of how you feel at all times. We all carry around a lot of “shoulds,” such as “No one  will do as good of a job as I do, so I have to be here all the time.” Or  “If I leave and something happens, I will never forgive myself.” Consider changing guilt into regret, “I’m in a difficult situation and I have to make difficult decisions sometimes.” “I regret that I am human and get impatient sometimes.” “I am dong the best I can even though things go wrong from time to time and I regret that I am not perfect.”

Impatience: How difficult is it to get your care receiver up in the morning? How about up, dressed, given breakfast and to their doctor’s appointment all before 10am? And you have other things to accomplish that day..  All this and the care receiver is acting unhelpful and moving slowly. Perhaps the care receiver refuses to  use his walker even though he has fallen many times and the doctor and physical therapist emphasized  he always needs to use it.  It is understandable that you would get impatient at times.

Coping:  Forgive yourself. When tired, frustrated and trying to keep things under control, it’s natural to want to speed up and have compliance from the care receiver to keep them safe and healthy. So, first, slow  down.  Leave a lot of time to accomplish tasks. Leave a LOT of time. Control the environment as much as you can, but know you can’t always prevent your father from taking off without his walker. Create a list of the things you are in control of and are not. Understand what you can and cannot control.

Jealousy: Do you sometimes feel jealous of your friends who are able to go out and do things that you can no longer do, because of your caregiving responsibilities? Are you jealous of your siblings who are not doing their share to help? Do you feel jealous of a friend whose parent died quickly and easily while you take care of a parent who has had dementia for many years?  Are we jealous of someone who got a big inheritance since we are struggling to pay bills and to be a good caregiver? We often don’t admit to this feeling, because we have always been told not to be jealous.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t, in fact, feel jealous from time to time, of those who have it easier or better than us.

Coping: It’s okay to admit to being jealous. Because things are not fair, we often have flashes of resentment and envy at other people’s good fortune compared to our own. Jealousy is a problem when  we  wallow in it and prevent ourselves from enjoying the things we DO  have.  Focus on what you do have, whatever they may be and find a place in your heart for gratitude.

Lack of Appreciation: Most of us do not want to be dependent on someone else.  Learning to accept help is hard.  So, the care receiver is often pushing away our attempts to be helpful and caring.  If someone has dementia, this problem is often much worse. And we get our feelings hurt because the care receiver does not thank us or even see how much we are giving up in order to care for them.

Coping: Sometimes we have to give ourselves our own pat on the back. Writing in a journal about the things you do each day might help  you to appreciate how much you give and how much you do. Having  a support group or a group of friends/family to cheer you on is important, and both comforting and necessary to remain resilient through your caregiving journey.

Loneliness: The longer you are a caregiver, the more isolated you become. With no one to talk to day in and day out except the care receiver, it is easy to lose a sense of yourself. Friends stop calling since we are no longer available and we hesitate to call them because we know “they don’t want to hear about it any more” or “I have nothing to talk about because my life is all about caregiving.”

Coping: Find ways to get out of the house and involved in something other than caregiving.  Learn about resources from your local Area Agency on Aging about respite programs or day care programs that will allow you to get a much needed and well deserved break.  No one can do this job alone.  Look at your wider circle of support—faith community, neighbors, friends, distant relatives, etc. to see where you might get some nurturing for you.

Loss: Caregivers experience many losses, some of which have already been mentioned: loss of control, loss of independence, loss of income, loss of your best friend, loss of the future, loss of a sense of yourself.  Loss leads to grief and depression.

Coping: Identifying your losses can help you to cope with them.  For each of us, the losses will be different.  When you know what you are feeling, you will be able to look at the loss and think about what might work for you to help you deal with it. (See FCA Fact Sheet Caregiving and Ambiguous Loss.)

Resentment: When put in a situation not of our choosing, it’s not uncommon to feel negative and resentful. Perhaps, you have siblings who are not helping provide care or maybe you are an only child, became the caregiver by default, and feel you have very little desire or support to offer care. Little things easily become big things when we feel unappreciated and unacknowledged. And feeling like you have to do it all, and do it all by yourself, is a guaranteed way to feel resentment.

Coping: Family situations and dynamics can be a real challenge. Having help from family may make your situation easier, but sometimes family tensions make it even harder to get help (See FCA Fact Sheet Caregiving with Your Siblings.) The more help and support you accept, the easier it will be to let go of feeling burdened and resentful of those who are not doing their share. If family tensions are getting in the way, it could also help you to refer to the FCA Fact Sheet Holding a Family Meeting. If you can’t get help from the people you think should be offering it, then you need to broaden your circle of people to include those who can and will help. It is easy to forget about the good things that have happened or are happening when we only focus on the negative.

Tiredness: As a caregiver, how often do you get the full eight hours of sleep they always say you need?  Sleep is often postponed while you grab a few minutes of alone time after the care receiver goes to bed.  Sleep is often disturbed because the care receiver gets up at night and needs help going to the bathroom or being re-directed back to bed.  Sleep is often disturbed because you can’t fall asleep or stay asleep because you are worrying  about all the stressors that  come with being a caregiver.

Coping: Sleep has to be put on the priority list.  Lack of sleep leads to obesity, illness, crankiness, impatience, inefficiency in accomplishing tasks , and a state of mental fogginess among other issues.  If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep not related to direct caregiving, talk to your physician. If you are having trouble sleeping due to caregiving problems, talk to the care receiver’s physician. There are ways to help both of you to get the rest you need. As a caregiver, you do amazing work caring for others in need. But as a caregiver, you also need to think about yourself. (See FCA Fact Sheet Taking Care of YOU: Self Care for Family Caregivers, and also the Fact Sheet Caregiver Health. Just pushing through each day will eventually wear you out and cause you to burn out. Emotional issues can weigh you down and impact not only your ability to cope and provide care, but they can also harm your health and well being. It is important to learn to ask for help and prioritize getting breaks from caregiving, so that you can be the caregiver you want to be.


Family Caregiver Alliance
National Center on Caregiving

785 Market Street, Suite 750
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 434-3388
(800) 445-8106

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) seeks to improve the quality of life for caregivers through education, services, research and advocacy.  Services include: comprehensive website for families and  professionals; on-line and printed versions of fact sheets covering a wide range of topics related to caregiving and brain disorders.

FCA’s National Center on Caregiving offers information on current social, public policy and caregiving issues and provides assistance in the development of public and private programs for caregivers, as well as a toll-free call center for family caregivers and professionals nationwide.

For San Francisco Bay Area residents, FCA provides direct family support services for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, ALS, head injury, Parkinson’s and other debilitating brain disorders that strike adults.

Recommended Reading

The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers: Looking After Yourself and Your Family While Helping an Aging Parent, 2006

Self Care for Caregivers: A Twelve Step Approach, Samples, Pat, 2000

Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence, Sheehy, Gail, 2011

FCA Fact Sheets

All FCA Fact Sheets are available online at Print versions are available to purchase online by visiting

Caregiving and Ambiguous Loss
Caregiving With Your Siblings
Caregiver Health
Depression and Caregiving
Grief and Loss
Holding a Family Meeting
Taking Care of YOU: Self Care for Family Caregivers


601 E Street, NW
Washington DC 20049
(888) 687-2277

Alzheimer’s Association
225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17
Chicago, IL 60601-7633
(312) 335-8700
(800) 272-3900


Copyright © 2016 Family Caregiver Alliance. All rights reserved.


Relieving Stress & Anxiety: Resources for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

( Caregivers face a variety of challenges when a loved one develops Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. This resource list offers a selection of articles, books, and other materials that may help caregivers cope with their own stress, anxiety, and emotions.

Some resources on this list are free; others must be purchased. To buy an item, please contact the publisher to confirm price and payment information. Many items are also available from traditional and online bookstores.

Care for the Caregiver: Managing Stress (PDF, 175K) (2013, 19 p.)

This booklet for family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease outlines 10 warning signs of severe caregiver stress, including depression and sleep problems. It discusses the importance of a positive attitude and suggests strategies for managing and reducing stress, including meditating, doing something enjoyable every day, exercising, and maintaining a sense of humor. Tips for combatting negative thoughts are also given.

Published by BrightFocus Foundation. Phone: 1-800-437-2423. E-mail: Free online access.

Caregivers (2009 video, 49 minutes)

“Caregivers” is one of four parts of “The Alzheimer’s Project,” a multimedia public health series co-presented by HBO Documentary Films and the National Institute on Aging in association with the Alzheimer’s Association, Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, and the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back Alzheimer’s Initiative. “Caregivers” highlights the daily sacrifices and successes of primary caregivers of loved ones descending into debilitating stages of dementia.

Produced by HBO Documentary Films. Free online access.

Caregiving and Ambiguous Loss (2013, 2 p.)

Many caregivers of people with dementia experience “ambiguous loss,” a feeling that comes from caring for a person who is physically present but mentally and psychologically absent. This feeling can lead to depression, anxiety, and other health problems. This fact sheet offers tips for coping with the ambiguity of caring for a person with memory loss.

Available from the Family Caregiver Alliance. Phone: 1-800-445-8106. E-mail: Free online access.

Caregiving Resource Center (2014)

This website from AARP offers information, tools, and tips for caregivers, including advice on stress management and caregiver support.

Published by AARP. Phone: 1-888-687-2277. E-mail: Free online access.

Caring for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease: Your Easy-to-Use Guide from the National Institute on Aging (2013, 104 p.)

This free guide helps caregivers understand and cope with the many challenges of caregiving. Among other topics, it offers tips for caregivers to address their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. It lists specific ways to ask for help.

Published by the National Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center. Phone: 1-800-438-4380. E-mail: Free online access.

Caring for Yourself (PDF, 672K)(2012, 2 p.)

This online tip sheet suggests ways for caregivers to take care of themselves and where to ask for help. It briefly discusses the importance of asking for help, offers ways to bolster one’s own feelings, and provides tips to meet spiritual needs.

Published by the National Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center. Phone: 1-800-438-4380. E-mail: Free online access.

Dementia Caregivers Share Their Stories: A Support Group in a Book (2005, 288 p.)

This book by Lynda A. Markut and Anatole Crane presents family caregivers’ stories about caregiving challenges. The caregivers, all members of an Alzheimer’s/dementia support group, were interviewed about their experiences, feelings, and ways they coped with their caregiving role. Topics include early symptoms and diagnosis, behavior changes, emotions, and coping with losses.

Published by Vanderbilt University Press. Phone: 1-800-627-7377. E-mail: Hardcover $69.95, softcover $24.95, e-book $23.99.

Dementia, Caregiving and Controlling Frustration (2003)

This fact sheet offers detailed suggestions for recognizing signs of frustration that can arise when trying to change an uncontrollable situation. Caregivers can learn to recognize what is and is not within their control and to respond appropriately. Strategies to cope with frustration, such as leaving the room briefly and counting to 10 slowly, and to adapt one’s thinking are given.

Available from the Family Caregiver Alliance. Phone: 1-800-445-8106. E-mail: Free online access.

Depression and Caregiving (2003, 4 p.)

Many caregivers of people with dementia suffer from depression. This tip sheet describes how to spot the symptoms of depression and what to do if you think you might be depressed. Medication, psychotherapy, and other treatments are described. Available in English, Spanish, and Chinese, as well as Korean and Vietnamese.

Available from the Family Caregiver Alliance. Phone: 1-800-445-8106. E-mail: Free online access.

Hit Pause: Helping Dementia Families Deal with Anger (PDF, 2.1M) (2006, 12 p.)

This booklet guides professionals to help caregivers who are angry with the care recipient, other family members, or professionals they feel are unresponsive or insensitive. The booklet presents typical scenarios and suggested responses for professionals to help caregivers maintain self-control and deal more effectively with difficult circumstances. Tips to help caregivers deal with sadness and guilt are also offered.

Available from the Duke Family Support Program. Phone: 1-800-672-4213 or 1-919-660-7510. E-mail: $2.

Lessons Learned: Shared Experiences in Coping (PDF, 151K) (1999).

This booklet by Edna Ballard and Cornelia Poer documents the experiences of a support group of people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. Filled with short stories and advice, it covers topics such as getting a diagnosis, finding support services, and making decisions about treatment, care, and living arrangements. The positive and negative aspects of caregiving are discussed.

Available from the Duke Family Support Program. Phone: 1-800-672-4213 or 1-919-660-7510. E-mail: $10.

Living with Grief: Alzheimer’s Disease (2004, 290 p.)

This book explains how hospice principles can improve care for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families. Along with background information and personal accounts about Alzheimer’s, the book presents information to help caregivers cope with loss both before and after the death of a loved one with the disease. The challenges of providing hospice care for people with dementia are also addressed.

Published by Hospice Foundation of America. Phone: 1-800-854-3402 or 1-202-457-5811. E-mail: $12.48.

Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories (2005, 136 p.)

This book is a “portable support group” that shares caregivers’ stories as a way to offer comfort and to assure other caregivers that they are not alone. Six stories are from author Carol Bradley Bursack’s experience as a caregiver for a neighbor and six family members. The others are from caregivers across the United States. The author’s Minding Our Elders website has more resources and information.

Published by McCleery and Sons Publishing. Available from online booksellers. Paperback $12.53.

Mom’s OK, She Just Forgets: The Alzheimer’s Journey from Denial to Acceptance (2006, 182 p.)

This book by Evelyn McLay and Ellen Young focuses on denial in families caring for a loved one with dementia. Denial may seem to be an acceptable coping mechanism when faced with an incurable disease, but the failure to accept reality can make things worse for the person with dementia and his or her family. The authors suggest behaviors, tools, and techniques for moving beyond denial to loving action and an improved attitude.

Published by Prometheus Books. Phone: 1-800-421-0351. Paperback $17.98.

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir (2007, 208 p.)

This book by Carol O’Dell tells the story of a daughter coping with role reversal when her sick, aging mother moves in. As she struggles to balance the ever-increasing demands of her mother with those of her three children and husband, the author must find time for her own needs. This is not a how-to book on caregiving, but an honest exploration of the impact of caregiving on relationships, beliefs, and lives.

Available from online booksellers. Phone: 1-904-403-2186. E-mail:

National Respite Locator

Respite care helps caregivers get a break, hold a job, and handle stress. This national searchable database helps caregivers find respite of all types—in the home, in a facility, or at a day care center. The service also has a free guide, The ABCs of Respite: A Consumer Guide for Family Caregivers. Technical assistance for respite providers is offered as well.

Available from of the ARCH National Respite Nework and Resource Center. Phone: 1-919-490-5577. E-mail: Free online access.

Pressure Points: Alzheimer’s and Anger (PDF, 151K) (2000, 70 p.)

This book discusses the stress and anger that are common among caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Topics include defining anger, identifying risk factors for anger in caregivers, maintaining control, helping children deal with anger, coping when the person with Alzheimer’s is angry, and dealing with abuse in a home or care facility.

Available from the Duke Family Support Program. Phone: 1-800-672-4213 or 1-919-660-7510. E-mail: $10.

iCare Family (website)

This website offers online information and stress management training for family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. The NIA-funded project includes online training videos and articles that cover dealing with stress, how to relax, managing difficult behaviors, communication skills, and other topics. Developed in collaboration with Stanford University and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Produced by Photozig Inc. Phone: 1-650-694-7496. E-mail: Free online access.

Strength in Caring: Giving Power Back to the Alzheimer’s Caregiver (2005)

This book by Mark Matloff is designed to help families and caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s strengthen themselves emotionally to cope with the demands they must face. It addresses a range of topics, including legal aspects of Alzheimer’s, medical facts, coping with grief, managing stress, and building happiness.

Available from online booksellers. Paperback $18.

Surviving the Waves of Dementia Care Grief (PDF, 2.0M) (2011, 3 p.)

This article in the summer-fall 2011 issue of Care ADvantage magazine (p. 17-19) describes how grief unfolds for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s, from the time of diagnosis until the time of death. It discusses how grief can come and go and can change in intensity. Ways to cope, such as keeping a journal and maintaining an exercise routine, are offered.

Published by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Phone: 1-866-232-8484. Free online access.

Take Care of Yourself: 10 Ways to be a Healthier Caregiver (PDF, 866K) (2012, 6 p.)

Caregivers may be so overwhelmed that they neglect their own physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This online booklet lists the signs of caregiver stress and get suggestions for managing stress and taking positive action.

Published by the Alzheimer’s Association. Phone: 1-800-272-3900. E-mail: Free online access.

Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers (2012, 4 p.)

This tip sheet can help caregivers think carefully about sources of stress, barriers to reducing stress, and ways to relieve stress. It offers concrete suggestions for developing achievable goals and solutions, such as exercising or talking to a doctor.

Available from the Family Caregiver Alliance. Phone: 1-800-445-8106. E-mail: Free online access.

Wait a Minute! When Anger Gets Too Much (PDF, 151K) (2003, 6 p.)

This pamphlet aims to help caregivers and family members of people with dementia deal with anger and frustration. It includes short scenarios and advice from social workers for dealing with anger at the person with dementia, family members, other care providers, and overwhelming circumstances.

Available from the Duke Family Support Program. Phone: 1-800-672-4213 or 1-919-660-7510. E-mail: $2.

When a Family Member Has Dementia: Steps to Becoming a Resilient Caregiver (2006, 184 p.)

This book by clinical psychologist Susan McCurry offers advice to help caregivers become more resilient as they deal with the challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia. Information is based on the author’s program called “The Dementia Dance” or DANCE, an acronym for five core principles: D: Don’t Argue, A: Accept the Disease, N: Nurture Yourself, C: Create Novel Solutions, and E: Enjoy the Moment. Vignettes from the author’s practice illustrate these principles.

Published by Praeger. Phone: 1-800-368-6868. E-mail: $39.95; call for e-book price.


National Institute on Aging


Being a Healthy Caregiver

(Alzheimer’s Association) As a caregiver, you may find yourself with so many responsibilities that you neglect taking good care of yourself. But the best thing you can do for the person you are caring for is stay physically and emotionally strong. Here’s how.

See the Doctor

Be sure to visit your physician regularly (at least annually), and listen to what your body is telling you. Any exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness, or changes in appetite or behavior should be taken seriously. Ignoring these symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.

If you are caring for someone in the late-stages of Alzheimer’s, talk to your health care provider about the seasonal flu shot. Being vaccinated protects both you and the person you are caring for.

Get Moving

No doubt you know that exercise is an important part of staying healthy — it can help relieve stress, prevent disease and make you feel good. But finding the time to exercise is another story.

Use these tips:

  • Take friends and family members up on their offers to help. 
    You can get in a good workout in a short amount of time — even a 30 minute break. Use our Care Team Calendar to help coordinate a schedule where you have breaks to exercise and take care of your health.
  • Start small. 
    While it is recommended that you get 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week, even 10 minutes a day can help. Fit in what you can, and work toward a goal.
  • Exercise at home. 
    When the person with dementia naps, pull out a yoga mat and stretch, set up a stationary bike, or try exercise tapes.
  • Find something you love. 
    If you enjoy the activity, it will be easier to make it a habit.

There also are many ways you can be active with the person with dementia. Here are a few ideas:

  • Take a walk together outside to enjoy the fresh air
  • Go to the mall and take a stroll indoors
  • Do seated exercises at home
  • Dance together to favorite music
  • Garden or do other routine activities that you both enjoy

Eat Well

Heart-healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, are good for overall health and may help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. Try new recipes and involve the person with dementia.

Need ideas on how to go healthy? 

Try these resources:

Five Tips to Help You Cope

  • Manage your level of stress. 
    Consider how stress affects your body (stomach aches, high blood pressure) — and your emotions (overeating, irritability). Find ways to relax. Learn more.
  • Be realistic. 
    The care you give does make a difference, but many behaviors can’t be controlled. Grieve the losses, focus on positive times as they arise, and enjoy good memories.
  • Give yourself credit, not guilt. 
    It’s normal to lose patience or feel like your care may fall short sometimes. You’re doing the best you can. For support and encouragement, join ALZConnected, our online caregiver community.
  • Take a break. 
    It’s normal to need a break from caregiving duties. No one can do it all by themselves. Look into respite care to allow time to take care of yourself.
  • Accept changes. 
    Eventually your loved one will need more intensive kinds of care. Research care options now so you are ready for the changes as they occur.

We Can Help

Caregiving can be overwhelming, but you aren’t alone. The Alzheimer’s Association is here to help.


Copyright © 2016  Alzheimer’s Association®. All rights reserved.


Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief

( For many of us, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. But this does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress. To effectively combat stress, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response.

You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, rhythmic exercise, and yoga. Fitting these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress and boost your energy and mood.

What you can do

  1. When you exercise, focus your attention on your breath
  2. Breathe in a scent like coffee or roses that makes you feel good
  3. Squeeze and then release tense or numb parts of your body
  4. Focus on the present rather than something that’s past or in the future
  5. Visualize in detail a scene that makes you feel peaceful
  6. Listen to music that calms and lifts you up

What can you do to cope with stress?

When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life.

No one can avoid all stress, but you can counteract it by learning how to produce the relaxation response, a state of deep rest that is the polar opposite of the stress response. The relaxation response puts the brakes on stress and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.

When the relaxation response is activated:

  • Your heart rate decreases
  • Breathing becomes slower and deeper
  • Blood pressure drops or stabilizes
  • Your muscles relax
  • Your body begins to heal

In addition to its calming physical effects, the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all, anyone can reap these benefits with regular practice.

Producing the relaxation response

A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response. The relaxation response is not lying on the couch or sleeping but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm, and focused.

Learning the basics of relaxation techniques isn’t difficult, but it does take practice. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you’d like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour. If that sounds like a daunting commitment, remember that many of these techniques can be incorporated into your existing daily schedule—practiced at your desk over lunch or on the bus during your morning commute.

Finding the relaxation technique that’s best for you

There is no single relaxation technique that is best for everyone. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, fitness, and the way you tend to react to stress. The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind and interrupt your everyday thoughts in order to elicit the relaxation response. In many cases, you may find that alternating or combining different techniques will keep you motivated and provide you with the best results.

How you react to stress may influence the relaxation technique that works best for you:

The “fight” response. If you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down, such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or guided imagery.

The “flight” response. If you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and energize your nervous system, such as rhythmic exercise, massage, mindfulness, or power yoga.

The immobilization response. If you’ve experienced some type of trauma and tend to “freeze” or become “stuck” under stress, your challenge is to first rouse your nervous system to a fight or flight response (above) so you can employ the applicable stress relief techniques. To do this, choose physical activity that engages both your arms and legs, such as running, dancing, or tai chi, and perform it mindfully, focusing on the sensations in your limbs as you move.

Making relaxation techniques a part of your life

The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is to incorporate it into your daily routine. While it can be tough to find the time in a busy schedule, many of the techniques can be practiced while you’re doing other things. You can meditate while commuting to work on a bus or train, for example, or waiting for an appointment. Try deep breathing while you’re doing housework or mowing the lawn. Mindfulness walking can be done while exercising your dog, walking to your car, or climbing the stairs at work. Once you’ve learned techniques such as tai chi, you can practice them in your office or in the park at lunchtime.

Other tips for making relaxation techniques part of your life

If possible, schedule a set time to practice each day. Set aside one or two periods each day. You may find that it’s easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way.

If you exercise, improve the relaxation benefits by adopting mindfulness. Instead of zoning out or staring at a TV as you exercise, try focusing your attention on your body. If you’re resistance training, for example, focus on coordinating your breathing with your movements and pay attention to how your body feels as you raise and lower the weights.

Avoid practicing when you’re sleepy. These techniques can relax you so much that they can make you very sleepy, especially if it’s close to bedtime. You will get the most benefit if you practice when you’re fully awake and alert. Do not practice after eating a heavy meal or while using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol.

Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.

Breathing meditation for stress relief

With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique. It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, too, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.

Practicing deep breathing meditation

The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel.

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.

If you find it difficult breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor. Put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale. Breathing techniques can be practiced almost anywhere and can be combined with other relaxation exercises, such as aromatherapy and music. All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.

Rhythmic movement for stress relief

Rhythmic exercise or physical activity that engages both your arms and legs—such as running, walking, swimming, dancing, rowing, or climbing—is most effective at relieving stress when performed mindfully. As with meditation, mindfulness requires being fully engaged in the present moment, focusing your mind on how your body feels right now. As you move, instead of continuing to focus on your thoughts, focus on the sensations in your limbs and how your breathing complements your movement. If your mind wanders to other thoughts, gently return to focusing on your breathing and movement.

If walking or running, for example, focus on each step—the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath while moving, and the feeling of the wind against your face. If you’ve experienced trauma, adding this mindfulness element can help your nervous system become “unstuck” and move on.

Progressive muscle relaxation for stress relief

Progressive muscle relaxation involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body.

With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of stress relief.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation sequence

  1. Right foot, then left foot
  2. Right calf, then left calf
  3. Right thigh, then left thigh
  4. Hips and buttocks
  5. Stomach
  6. Chest
  7. Back
  8. Right arm and hand, then left arm and hand
  9. Neck and shoulders
  10. Face

Before practicing progressive muscle relaxation, consult with your doctor if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles.

Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face.

  1. Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  2. Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  3. When you’re relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  4. Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  5. Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
  6. Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  7. When you’re ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
  8. Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
  9. It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

Body scan meditation for stress relief

A body scan is similar to progressive muscle relaxation except instead of tensing and relaxing muscles you simply focus on the sensations in each part of your body.

Practicing body scan meditation

  1. Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms relaxed at your sides, eyes open or closed. Focus on your breathing, allowing your stomach to rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Breathe deeply for about two minutes, until you start to feel comfortable and relaxed.
  2. Turn your focus to the toes of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel while continuing to also focus on your breathing. Imagine each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on this area for one to two minutes.
  3. Move your focus to the sole of your right foot. Tune in to any sensations you feel in that part of your body and imagine each breath flowing from the sole of your foot. After one or two minutes, move your focus to your right ankle and repeat. Move to your calf, knee, thigh, hip, and then repeat the sequence for your left leg. From there, move up the torso, through the lower back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and the shoulders. Pay close attention to any area of the body that causes you pain or discomfort.
  4. Move your focus to the fingers on your right hand and then move up to the wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder. Repeat for your left arm. Then move through the neck and throat, and finally all the regions of your face, the back of the head, and the top of the head. Pay close attention to your jaw, chin, lips, tongue, nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, temples and scalp. When you reach the very top of your head, let your breath reach out beyond your body and imagine hovering above yourself.
  5. After completing the body scan, relax for a while in silence and stillness, noting how your body feels. Then open your eyes slowly. Take a moment to stretch, if necessary.

Mindful meditation for stress relief

Mindfulness is the ability to remain aware of how you’re feeling right now, your “moment-to-moment” experience—both internal and external. Thinking about the past—blaming and judging yourself—or worrying about the future can generate stress. But by staying calm and focused in the present moment, you can bring your nervous system back into balance. Mindfulness can be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, eating, or meditation.

Meditations that cultivate mindfulness have long been used to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions. Some of these meditations bring you into the present by focusing your attention on a single repetitive action, such as your breathing, a few repeated words, or the flickering light of a candle. Other forms of mindfulness meditation encourage you to follow and then release internal thoughts or sensations.

Practicing mindfulness meditation

To practice mindfulness meditation, you’ll need:

A quiet environment. Choose a secluded place in your home, office, or outdoors where you can relax without distractions or interruptions.

A comfortable position. Get comfortable, but avoid lying down as this may lead to you falling asleep. Sit up with your spine straight, either in a chair or on the floor. You can also try a cross-legged or lotus position.

A point of focus. You can meditate with your eyes closed or open so this point can be internal—a feeling or imaginary scene—or external—a flame, an object in your surroundings, or a meaningful word or phrase that you repeat throughout the meditation.

An observant, noncritical attitude. Don’t worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well you’re doing. If thoughts intrude during your relaxation session, don’t fight them, just gently turn your attention back to your point of focus.

If emotions surface during the meditation that you are uncomfortable experiencing, you can learn to tolerate these emotions by exploring HelpGuide’s emotional intelligence toolkit.

Mindfulness techniques

There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment. All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation.

Basic mindfulness meditation – Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.

Body sensations – Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.

Sensory – Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.

Emotions – Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.”

Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.

Urge surfing – Cope with cravings (for addictive substances or behaviors) and allow them to pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters. Replace the wish for the craving to go away with the certain knowledge that it will subside.

Visualization meditation for stress relief

Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that requires you to employ not only your visual sense, but also your sense of taste, touch, smell, and hearing. When used as a relaxation technique, visualization involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety.

Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether it’s a tropical beach, a favorite childhood spot, or a quiet wooded glen. You can do this visualization exercise on your own in silence, while listening to soothing music, or with a therapist (or an audio recording of a therapist) guiding you through the imagery. To help you employ your hearing you can use a sound machine or download sounds that match your chosen setting—the sound of ocean waves if you’ve chosen a beach, for example.

Practicing visualization

Find a quiet, relaxed place. Beginners sometimes fall asleep during a visualization meditation, so you might try sitting up.

Close your eyes and let your worries drift away. Imagine your restful place. Picture it as vividly as you can—everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible, using at least three of your senses. When visualizing, choose imagery that appeals to you; don’t select images because you think they should be appealing. Let your own images come up and work for you.

If you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake, for example:

  1. Walk slowly around the dock and notice the colors and textures around you.
  2. Spend some time exploring each of your senses.
  3. See the sun setting over the water.
  4. Hear the birds singing.
  5. Smell the pine trees.
  6. Feel the cool water on your bare feet.
  7. Taste the fresh, clean air.

Enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation that envelopes you as you slowly explore your restful place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present.

Don’t worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are during a guided imagery session.  This is normal. You may also experience feelings of stiffness or heaviness in your limbs, minor, involuntary muscle-movements, or even cough or yawn. Again, these are normal responses.

Yoga and tai chi for stress relief

Yoga involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. As well as reducing anxiety and stress, yoga can also improve flexibility, strength, balance, and stamina. Practiced regularly, it can also strengthen the relaxation response in your daily life. Since injuries can happen when yoga is practiced incorrectly, it’s best to learn by attending group classes, hiring a private teacher, or at least following video instructions.

What type of yoga is best for stress?

Although almost all yoga classes end in a relaxation pose, classes that emphasize slow, steady movement, deep breathing, and gentle stretching are best for stress relief.

  • Satyananda is a traditional form of yoga. It features gentle poses, deep relaxation, and meditation, making it suitable for beginners as well as anyone primarily looking for stress reduction.
  • Hatha yoga is also reasonably gentle way to relieve stress and is suitable for beginners. Alternately, look for labels like gentle, for stress relief, or for beginners when selecting a yoga class.
  • Power yoga, with its intense poses and focus on fitness, is better suited to those looking for stimulation as well as relaxation.

If you’re unsure whether a specific yoga class is appropriate for stress relief, call the studio or ask the teacher.

Tai chi

If you’ve ever seen a group of people in the park slowly moving in synch, you’ve probably witnessed tai chi. Tai chi is a self-paced, non-competitive series of slow, flowing body movements. These movements emphasize concentration, relaxation, and the conscious circulation of vital energy throughout the body. Though tai chi has its roots in martial arts, today it is primarily practiced as a way of calming the mind, conditioning the body, and reducing stress. As in meditation, tai chi practitioners focus on their breathing and keeping their attention in the present moment.

Tai chi is a safe, low-impact option for people of all ages and fitness levels, including older adults and those recovering from injuries. Like yoga, once you’ve learned the basics of tai chi or qi gong, you can practice alone or with others, tailoring your sessions as you see fit.

Massage therapy for stress relief

You’re probably already aware how much a professional massage at a spa or health club can help reduce stress, relieve pain, and ease muscle tension. What you may not be aware of is that you can experience many of the same benefits at home or work by practicing self-massage—or trading massages with a loved one.

Try taking a few minutes to massage yourself at your desk between tasks, on the couch at the end of a hectic day, or in bed to help you unwind before sleep. To enhance relaxation, you can use aromatic oil, scented lotion, or combine self-message with mindfulness or deep breathing techniques.

A five-minute self-massage to relieve stress

A combination of strokes works well to relieve muscle tension. Try gentle chops with the edge of your hands or tapping with fingers or cupped palms. Put fingertip pressure on muscle knots. Knead across muscles, and try long, light, gliding strokes. You can apply these strokes to any part of the body that falls easily within your reach. For a short session like this, try focusing on your neck and head:

  • Start by kneading the muscles at the back of your neck and shoulders. Make a loose fist and drum swiftly up and down the sides and back of your neck. Next, use your thumbs to work tiny circles around the base of your skull. Slowly massage the rest of your scalp with your fingertips. Then tap your fingers against your scalp, moving from the front to the back and then over the sides.
  • Now massage your face. Make a series of tiny circles with your thumbs or fingertips. Pay particular attention to your temples, forehead, and jaw muscles. Use your middle fingers to massage the bridge of your nose and work outward over your eyebrows to your temples.
  • Finally, close your eyes. Cup your hands loosely over your face and inhale and exhale easily for a short while.

Adapted with permission from Stress Management: Approaches for Preventing and Reducing Stress, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.

Related HelpGuide articles


Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Robert Segal, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A. Last updated: December 2016.



Caregiver Stress and Burnout: Tips for Regaining Your Energy, Optimism, and Hope

(HelpGuide) The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel you have little control over the situation or you’re in over your head. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind—eventually leading to burnout.

When you’re burned out, it’s tough to do anything, let alone look after someone else. That’s why taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. Read on for tips on how to rein in the stress in your life and regain balance, joy, and hope.

What Do You Need to Know?

Caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, but it also involves many stressors. Caregiver stress can be particularly damaging, since it is typically a chronic, long-term challenge. You may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities. It can be particularly disheartening when there’s no hope that your family member will get better.

If you don’t get the physical and emotional support your need, the stress of caregiving leaves you vulnerable to a wide range of problems, including depression, anxiety, and burnout. And when you get to that point, both you and the person you’re caring for suffer. That’s why managing the stress levels in your life is just as important as making sure your family member gets to his doctor’s appointment or takes her medication on time.

Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Stress and Burnout

Learning to recognize the signs of caregiver stress and burnout is the first step to dealing with the problem.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Stress

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Overreacting to minor nuisances
  • New or worsening health problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling increasingly resentful
  • Drinking, smoking, or eating more
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Cutting back on leisure activities

Common Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

  • You have much less energy than you once had
  • It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
  • You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
  • You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
  • Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
  • You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
  • You feel helpless and hopeless

Once you burn out, caregiving is no longer a healthy option for either you or the person you’re caring for. So it’s important to watch for the warning signs of caregiver burnout and take action right away when you recognize the problem.

Don’t let caregiving take over your whole life. It’s easier to accept a difficult situation when there are other areas of your life that are rewarding. Invest in things that give you meaning and purpose—whether it’s your family, church, a favorite hobby, or your career. Read on for some additional tips to lighten the load:

Find Ways to Feel Empowered

Feeling powerless is the number one contributor to burnout and depression. And it’s an easy trap to fall into as a caregiver, especially if you feel stuck in a role you didn’t expect or helpless to change things for the better. But no matter the situation, you aren’t powerless. This is especially true when it comes to your state of mind. You can’t always get the extra time, money, or physical assistance you’d like, but you can always get more happiness and hope.

Embrace your caregiving choice. Acknowledge that, despite any resentments or burdens you feel, you have made a conscious choice to provide care. Focus on the positive reasons behind that choice. Perhaps you provide care to repay your parent for the care they gave you growing up. Or maybe it’s because or your values or the example you want to set for your children. These deep, meaningful motivations can help sustain you through difficult times.

Focus on the things you can control. You can’t wish your mother’s cancer away or force your brother to help out more. Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, focus on the way you choose to react to problems.

Celebrate the small victories. If you start to feel discouraged, remind yourself that all your efforts matter. You don’t have to cure your loved one’s illness to make a difference. Don’t underestimate the importance of making your loved one feel more safe, comfortable, and loved!

Get the Appreciation You Need

Feeling appreciated can go a long way toward not only accepting a stressful situation, but enjoying life more. Studies show that caregivers who feel appreciated experience greater physical and emotional health. Caregiving actually makes them happier and healthier, despite its demands. But what can you do if the person you’re caring for is no longer able to feel or show their appreciation for your time and efforts?

Imagine how your loved one would respond if he or she was healthy. If he or she wasn’t preoccupied with illness or pain (or disabled by dementia), how would your loved one feel about the love and care you’re giving? Remind yourself that the person would express gratitude if he or she was able.

Applaud your own efforts. If you’re not getting external validation, find ways to acknowledge and reward yourself. Remind yourself of the good you’re doing. If you need something more concrete, try making a list of all the ways your caregiving is making a positive difference. Refer back to it when you start to feel low.

Talk to a supportive family member or friend. Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to come from the person you’re caring for. When you’re feeling unappreciated, turn to friends and family who will listen to you and acknowledge your efforts.

Ask for Help

Taking on all of the responsibilities of caregiving without regular breaks or assistance is a surefire recipe for burnout. Don’t try to do it all alone. Look into respite care. Or enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or “baby-sit” the care receiver so you can take a well-deserved break.

Tips for getting the caregiving help you need

Speak up. Don’t expect friends and family members to automatically know what you need or how you’re feeling. Be up front about what’s going on with you and the person you’re caring for. If you have concerns or thoughts about how to improve the situation, express them—even if you’re unsure how they’ll be received. Get a dialogue going.

Spread the responsibility. Try to get as many family members involved as possible. Even someone who lives far away can help. You may also want to divide up caregiving tasks. One person can take care of medical responsibilities, another with finances and bills, and another with groceries and errands, for example.

Set up a regular check-in. Ask a family member, friend, or volunteer from your church or senior center to call you on a set basis (every day, weekly, or how ever often you think you need it). This person can help you spread status updates and coordinate with other family members.

Say “yes” when someone offers assistance. Don’t be shy about accepting help. Let them feel good about supporting you. It’s smart to have a list ready of small tasks that others could easily take care of, such as picking up groceries or driving your loved one to an appointment.

Be willing to relinquish some control. Delegating is one thing. Trying to control every aspect of care is another. People will be less likely to help if you micromanage, give orders, or insist on doing things your way.

Give Yourself a Break

As a busy caregiver, leisure time may seem like an impossible luxury. But you owe it to yourself—as well as to the person you’re caring for—to carve it into your schedule. Give yourself permission to rest and to do things that you enjoy on a daily basis. You will be a better caregiver for it.

There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. If you’re not regularly taking time-off to de-stress and recharge your batteries, you’ll end up getting less done in the long run. After a break, you should feel more energetic and focused, so you’ll quickly make up for your relaxation time.

Maintain your personal relationships. Don’t let your friendships get lost in the shuffle of caregiving. These relationships will help sustain you and keep you positive. If it’s difficult to leave the house, invite friends over to visit with you over coffee, tea, or dinner.

Prioritize activities that bring you enjoyment. Make regular time for things that bring you happiness, whether it’s reading, working in the garden, tinkering in your workshop, knitting, playing with the dogs, or watching the game.

Find ways to pamper yourself. Small luxuries can go a long way in relieving stress and boosting your spirits. Light candles and take a long bath. Ask your hubby for a back rub. Get a manicure. Buy fresh flowers for the house. Or whatever makes you feel special.

Make yourself laugh. Laughter is an excellent antidote to stress—and a little goes a long way. Read a funny book, watch a comedy, or call a friend who makes you laugh. And whenever you can, try to find the humor in everyday situations.

Get out of the house. Seek out friends, family, and respite care providers to step in with caregiving so you can have some time away from the home.

Take Care of Your Health

Think of your body like a car. With the right fuel and proper maintenance, it will run reliably and well. Neglect its upkeep and it will start to give you trouble. Don’t add to the stress of your caregiving situation with avoidable health woes.

Keep on top of your doctor visits. It’s easy to forget about your own health when you’re busy with a loved one’s care. Don’t skip check-ups or medical appointments. You need to be healthy in order to take good care of your family member.

Exercise. When you’re stressed and tired, the last thing you feel like doing is exercising. But you’ll feel better afterwards. Exercise is a powerful stress reliever and mood enhancer. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes on most days. When you exercise regularly, you’ll also find it boosts your energy level and helps you fight fatigue.

Meditate. A daily relaxation or meditation practice can help you relieve stress and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation. Even a few minutes in the middle of an overwhelming day can help you feel more centered.

Eat well. Nourish your body with fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean protein, and healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil. Unlike sugar and caffeine—which provide a quick pick-me-up and an even quicker crash—these foods will fuel you with steady energy.

Don’t skimp on sleep. Cutting back on time in bed is counterproductive—at least if your goal is to get more done. Most people need more sleep than they think they do (8 hours is the norm). When you get less, your mood, energy, productivity, and ability to handle stress will suffer.

Join a Support Group

A caregiver support group is a great way to share your troubles and find people who are going through the same experiences that you are living each day. If you can’t leave the house, many Internet groups are also available.

In most support groups, you’ll talk about your problems and listen to others talk; you’ll not only get help, but you’ll also be able to help others. Most important, you’ll find out that you’re not alone. You’ll feel better knowing that other people are in the same situation, and their knowledge can be invaluable, especially if they’re caring for someone with the same illness as you are.

Local vs. Online Support Groups for Caregivers
Local support groups: Online support groups:
People live near each other and meet in a given place each week or month. People are from all over the world and have similar interests or problems.
You get face-to-face contact and a chance to make new friends who live near you. You meet online, through email lists, websites, message boards, or social media.
The meetings get you out of the house, get you moving provide a social outlet, and reduce feelings of isolation. You can get support without leaving your house, which is good for people with limited mobility or transportation problems.
Meetings are at a set time. You will need to attend them regularly to get the full benefit of the group. You can access the group whenever it’s convenient for you or when you need help most.
Since the people in the support group are from your area, they’ll be more familiar with local resources and issues. If your problem is very unusual—a rare disease, for example—there may not be enough people for a local group, but there will always be enough people online.


To find a community support group, check the yellow pages, ask your doctor or hospital, or call a local organization that deals with the health problem you would like to address in a support group. To find an Internet support group, visit the website of an organization dedicated to the problem.

Related HelpGuide articles

Resources and References

Preventing family caregiver burnout

Preventing Caregiver Burnout – Part of a handbook and resource guide for caregivers in Florida. Examines the signs of caregiver burnout and how to handle it. Includes tips for caregivers who are themselves challenged by age or infirmity. (Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas)

Taking Care of You: Self-Care for Family Caregivers – Learn about the effects of caregiving on your own well-being, and what you can do to care for yourself. (Family Caregiver Alliance)

How to Feel Empowered as a Caregiver – Tips from a caregiving specialist on how to avoid bitterness and burnout by waking up to options within your reach. (AARP Magazine)

Tips and support for family caregivers

Caregiver Toolbox – Explore helpful tips and resources for family caregivers. (Caregiver Action Network)

Caregiver Support – Find articles, tips, and resources for caregivers who need support. (

Find caregiver services and resources in the U.S.

Family Care Navigator  – A state-by-state resource intended to help you locate services for family caregivers and resources for older or disabled adults. (Family Caregiver Alliance)

Resources for Caregivers of Diverse Populations and Specific Age Groups – Find links to resources for caregivers of adults, children, individuals with disabilities and mental disorders, veterans, and more. (American Psychological Association)

Find caregiver services internationally

What Social Care Services are Available? – NHS services available to UK carers of disabled children and adults, including respite care. (NHS)

Caring for an Older Australian – For Australian residents, provides information and support services for older people, people with disabilities and those who provide care and services. (Australian Government)

Carers New Zealand – Offers help and advice for New Zealand carers, including guidance on respite care services. (Carers NZ)

Programs and Services (PDF) – Information on services for seniors in Canada, including in-home support.  (Government of Canada)

Get a Copy of This Article

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Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Gina Kemp, M.A. Last updated: April 2017.

© All rights reserved.


Alzheimer’s and Sleep Problems

( People with Alzheimer’s disease go through many changes, and sleep problems are often some of the most noticeable.

Most adults have changes in their sleep patterns as they age. But the problems are more severe and happen more often for people with Alzheimer’s.

You might notice that your loved one:

  • Sleeps a lot more than usual, including taking naps during the day. This is common for people in the early stages of the disease.
  • Has trouble falling asleep or wakes up a lot at night. When he does sleep, he might doze on and off.
  • Wants to sleep more during the day and stay awake at night. This becomes more common as Alzheimer’s gets worse.
  • Gets restless or agitated when the sun sets, a condition called sundowning. He might pace or wander during the night, too.

Scientists aren’t sure why people with Alzheimer’s tend to have problems sleeping. It may be because the disease damages the brain and changes the way it controls the sense of when to get shut-eye and when to be awake.

But even when sleep patterns change, you can make it easier for your loved one to rest and get some Zzz’s yourself.


Most doctors say it’s best to start with changes to lifestyle and behavior to fix sleep problems. There are medications that can aid sleep, but they can be harmful for people with Alzheimer’s, causing confusion and making them more likely to fall.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Help your loved one keep a regular 24-hour schedule. Eat meals, wake up, and go to bed at the same time each day.
  • Discourage naps during the day, or at least limit them to 30 minutes.
  • Move him into sunlight soon after he wakes up and keep the lighting low as bedtime approaches. This helps set his internal clock closer to normal.
  • Make sure he exercises every day, although not within 4 hours of going to bed.
  • Encourage him to avoid nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and large meals, especially at night.
  • Make sure his bedroom is comfortable, with the temperature not too warm and not too cold.
  • Check with your loved one’s doctor about other health conditions he might have that can cause sleep problems, such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, or urinary tract infections. There may be treatments that can help.
  • Some Alzheimer’s drugs, like donepezil (Aricept), can cause trouble sleeping. If your loved one takes this medication, avoid giving it to him at night.

A mix of changes may help if one tactic doesn’t work.

Sleep Medications and Alzheimer’s

If your loved one’s doctor prescribes medicine to help him rest, he’ll probably start at the lowest dose possible and stop the drugs as soon as sleep patterns improve.

Medications include:

  • Sleeping pills such as zaleplon (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien)

Doctors also sometimes prescribe drugs called antipsychotics such as risperidone (Risperdal). They can be helpful, but they also might increase the risk of death in some people with dementia. You’ll want to talk carefully with your loved one’s doctor about this medicine before he takes it.

Just as Alzheimer’s sleep problems can change over the years, so do the ways you can handle it. Always talk to your doctor about which options are best.

How You Can Get Rest, Too

As a caregiver, it’s just as important for you to get enough shut-eye, so you can take better care of yourself and your loved one.

Many of the same things recommended for people with Alzheimer’s can work for you, too:

  • Keep a regular schedule.
  • Don’t smoke, and cut down on caffeine, alcohol, and large meals, especially at night.
  • Have a comfortable bedroom and use it only for sleeping.
  • If your loved one takes a short nap during the day, take the chance to lie down and rest as well.
  • Connect with other caregivers for support. You might feel better talking to others about your situation and hearing their advice.
  • Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Try to relax before you go to bed. Muscle relaxation exercises, writing in a journal, or soft music can help.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Richard Senelick, MD on June 22, 2015

© 2005 – 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


Taboo to Caregivers: 11 Things You Should Never Say

( I’ve had so much support from friends and family through 35 years of family caregiving. But every now and then people say things that really frustrate and annoy me. So I reached out to other family caregivers and asked if there were things they also wish people would never say to them. People surely don’t intend to be offensive: They just might not understand caregivers’ perspectives or haven’t thought carefully about what they’re saying.

If you know someone who is a family caregiver, please try to avoid saying these things that are truly not helpful and may be hurtful.

1. “You should…” This comment just makes us feel judged and defensive. When it comes from people who aren’t intimately involved in our caregiving journeys and often have no idea of the actual needs of our loved ones, it makes us feel resentful. It’s particularly frustrating when people assume we don’t know something obvious, or haven’t already tried what they’re suggesting.

Instead: Consider saying, “You’re doing a tremendous job! If you have challenges that you’re trying to solve I’d be happy to help you brainstorm and research new approaches if that would be helpful. I don’t want to suggest things you’ve already been doing or have ruled out.”

2. “Caregiving would be handled differently in my family…” Really? How do you know that? Is your situation exactly the same as mine? That’s simply not possible. We all play different roles in our families, have different strengths, relationships, illnesses, abilities and financial situations. Unless or until you are in the same situation as my family you cannot really know how you would handle it. This is especially frustrating when it comes from people who have never even met our loved ones.

Instead: Be aware that every family and situation is unique. Try saying, “I’m sure managing family caregiving is difficult and would be a challenge in any family.”

3. “It’s too hard for me to see how he’s changed due to his illness. I just can’t handle seeing him like that.” This is a very selfish viewpoint caregivers may hear from other family members or their loved one’s friends, particularly when dealing with dementia. If you think it’s hard for you, imagine how hard it is for him. Don’t you think it’s hard for me, too? That doesn’t mean I stay away!

Instead: You can acknowledge that it’s difficult, but come on — try to focus on the person who is ill. Grow, learn new skills and help care for the person or figure out how you might enhance his quality of life. It can be very rewarding.

4. “You look really tired; you really need to take care of yourself.” Tell me something I don’t know! I am aware that I’m tired, have gained weight, have health issues and more; I don’t need you to tell me this.

Instead: Help me take care of myself in practical ways. Offer to cook some healthy meals. Take a night shift so I can sleep. Gift me some exercise classes or a personal trainer who will come to the house. Care for my loved one for a few hours so I can rest.

5. “I just couldn’t do what you’re doing (or I can’t help care for her) because my life is too busy with other responsibilities,” or “You’ve put your life on hold to be a caregiver.” This suggests that in fact my life is not busy and I have all the time in the world to be caregiving, or that I can stop the clock to put life on hold — which is never the case. It also implies that your responsibilities, work, relationships, self-care and activities are more important than mine (not to mention more important than caring for our loved one). I need to keep living my life, too.

Instead: “I see that you are rearranging your life and juggling so much to be involved in caregiving. I realize that if I were the caregiver, I would have to rearrange my priorities, too,” or “I know you are making a lot of changes in your life to care for our mom. I’m going to look at my priorities also and step up to the plate to help care for her, too.”

6. “There’s always one person in the family who does the caregiving — you’re just that person.” Just because all too often one family member ends up taking on the bulk of caregiving responsibilities, it doesn’t mean it’s right.

Instead: “I think it’s unfair that you are providing the majority of the care for Dad. That must be frustrating. I’d be willing to help you try to find services to supplement the care you provide (and help pay for them if necessary),” or “I feel badly that you are providing more of Mom’s care. Let’s set up a schedule and come up with ways that I can take on more care responsibilities.”

7. “You are a saint,” or “Your reward for caregiving will be in heaven.” How about now? Our ultimate reward is precious time spent with our loved ones, knowing we are doing our best for them and being appreciated for what we are doing. Believe me, we are all far from perfect. We often feel inadequate, angry and exhausted. Sometimes when you say things like this it makes us feel that we shouldn’t expect support or appreciation now, while we are in the midst of it, or suggests we are superhuman and don’t need support.

Instead: “Thank you for what you are doing — it must be very challenging at times, but you keep forging ahead, and I admire you for that. I’d like to do (X, Y, Z) to support you.” Or surprise a caregiver with a supportive greeting card, gift certificate, present or anything that makes her feel appreciated.

8. “Just let me know if you need anything,” or “Let me know how I can help.” It’s always nice to offer help, but we are often so overwhelmed and exhausted that it’s hard for us to think of things for you to do or guess what you’d actually be willing or have the time to do. And we often don’t have the energy to reach out when we need support the most.

Instead: It’s so much more helpful — and seems much more sincere — when people offer specific things they can do. Try “Would it be helpful if I did (X, Y, Z)?” or “I’d be happy to come stay with her for a while so you can have a break: How about next Saturday, or is there a better time?” or “Let’s talk about some specific things I could do that might be helpful. Could I run some errands for you? Sort your mail? Water your plants? Come and visit with your loved one? Bring a meal?”

9. “If it’s hard for you, then why don’t you just put your mom in a nursing home (or other facility)?” Many people have no idea what that means financially or how complicated it is to advocate for and care for someone who is in a facility. They assume that a facility takes care of every need. Not true. While it’s a good choice for some people, it’s not always feasible or desirable for everyone.

Instead: “I can see how hard this is for you, and I so appreciate and admire what you are doing. I’d like to help…” (see above).

10. “Isn’t caring for your aging parents just like raising children?” Please never make that comparison! My parents will never be my children and I will never treat them that way. Caring for an adult is very different from caring for children in every way — physically and emotionally — both for them and for us. When caring for an aging parent we may feel like we are losing them little by little; it’s a long grieving process. Children are growing up and moving toward independence, while we struggle to support our parents so they can remain as independent as possible.

Instead: “I appreciate the way you respect and support your parents as they age, and can understand the challenges of seeing them change over time.”

11. “Well, at least your mom’s had a long life.” I understand that it’s a whole different thing to lose a loved one at a very young age — a horrible loss that I’ve experienced myself, with the death of my 19-year-old niece. But that doesn’t mean that an older person’s life is not valuable and their condition or death is not a huge loss. My grandfather lived to be 98 years old, and I was still heartbroken when he died.

Instead: “It’s always painful to watch someone you love suffer or change, or to lose them — at any age. I can imagine how hard this is for you.”

Above all, remember that most family caregivers are emotionally invested in this journey. It’s full of ups and downs and, yes, we may be sensitive. You may not be able to see the whole picture, so choose your words carefully and intentionally. We so need and value your support, reinforcement and appreciation — and above all your practical help. You’d be surprised what a positive influence you can have on our lives with a few well-chosen words.


Amy Goyer is AARP’s family and caregiving expert and author of AARP’s Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving.

Copyright 2017 AARP


Participating in Activities You Enjoy—More Than Just Fun and Games

(NIH) There are many things you can do to help yourself age well: exercise and be physically active, make healthy food choices, and don’t smoke. But did you know that participating in activities you enjoy may also help support healthy aging?

As people get older, they often find themselves spending more and more time at home alone. The isolation can lead to depression and is not good for your health. If you find yourself spending a lot of time alone, try adding a volunteer or social activity to your routine.

June feels great. She enjoys gardening, playing cards with friends on Tuesdays and Fridays at the senior center, and taking a water aerobics class at the county indoor pool. She turns 78 this year, but feels like she’s still in her 50s. Research shows that staying active can help older adults like June stay healthy.

Benefits of an Active Lifestyle

Engaging in social and productive activities you enjoy, like taking an art class or becoming a volunteer in your community or at your place of worship, may help to maintain your well-being.

Research tells us that older people with an active lifestyle:

  • Are less likely to develop certain diseases. Participating in hobbies and other social and leisure pursuits may lower risk for developing some health problems, including dementia.
  • Have a longer lifespan. One study showed that older adults who reported taking part in social activities (such as playing games, belonging to social groups, or traveling) or meaningful, productive activities (such as having a paid or unpaid job, or gardening) lived longer than people who did not. Researchers are further exploring this connection.
  • Are more happy and less depressed. Studies suggest that older adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities, like volunteering in their communities, say they feel happier and more healthy. One study placed older adults from an urban community in their neighborhood public elementary schools to tutor children 15 hours a week. Volunteers reported personal satisfaction from the experience. The researchers found it improved the volunteers’ cognitive and physical health, as well as the children’s school success. They think it might also have long-term benefits, lowering the older adults’ risk of developing disability, dependency, and dementia in later life.
  • Are better prepared to cope with loss. Studies suggest that volunteering can help with stress and depression from the death of a spouse. Among people who experienced a loss, those who took part in volunteer activities felt more positive about their own abilities (reported greater self-efficacy).
  • May be able to improve their thinking abilities. Another line of research is exploring how participating in creative arts might help people age well. For example, studies have shown that older adults’ memory, comprehension, creativity, and problem-solving abilities improved after an intensive, 4-week (8-session) acting course. Other studies are providing new information about ways that creative activities like music or dance can help older adults.

Melvin has not quite felt like himself since his retirement. He misses his customers and teaching new employees the trade. Linn used to care for her grandchildren while her daughter was at work. Now that her grandchildren are in school, she has a lot of extra time on her hands. Melvin and Linn miss waking up with a feeling of purpose. They think joining a volunteer group might help. Research shows that people who are sociable, generous, and goal-oriented may feel more happy and less depressed than other people.

Activities to Consider

Would you like to get more involved in your community or be more socially active? There are plenty of places to look for opportunities, depending on your interests. Here are some ideas:

Get out and about

  • Join a senior center and take part in its events and activities
  • Play cards or other games with friends
  • Go to the theater, a movie, or a sporting event
  • Travel with a group of older adults, such as a retiree group
  • Visit friends and family
  • Try different restaurants
  • Join a group interested in a hobby like knitting, hiking, painting, or wood carving

Learn something new

  • Take a cooking, art, or computer class
  • Form or join a book club
  • Try yoga, tai chi, or another new physical activity
  • Learn (or relearn) how to play a musical instrument

Become more active in your community

  • Serve meals or organize clothing donations at a place for homeless people
  • Help an organization send care packages to soldiers stationed overseas
  • Care for dogs and cats at an animal shelter
  • Volunteer to run errands for people with disabilities
  • Join a committee or volunteer for an activity at your place of worship
  • Volunteer at a school, library, or hospital
  • Help with gardening at a community garden or park
  • Organize a park clean-up through your local recreation center or community association
  • Sing in a community choral group, or play in a local band or orchestra
  • Take part in a local theater troupe
  • Get a part-time job

When Maria was younger, she took part in rallies for local issues and even went to Washington, D.C., to hear Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. Recently, she has been learning about problems with the environment and wants to get involved in finding a solution. She thinks it will be a good way to volunteer her time.

Be physically active

  • Garden or do yard work
  • Take an exercise class or do exercises at home
  • Go dancing
  • Walk or bicycle with a friend or neighbor
  • Swim or take a swimming class
  • Play with your grandchildren

For more information about physical activity, check out Go4Life®. This exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging has exercises, success stories, and free video and print materials at

Two years ago, Ted began volunteering at his senior center, then he started some clubs at the center. Now he volunteers 3 days a week, leads the center’s theater group, and plays in a weekly poker game. He also recently joined a committee for his apartment building that meets twice a month. Ted is rushing all the time and thinks he might need to cut back.

Find the Right Balance

Everyone has different limits to the amount of time they can spend on social or other activities. What is perfect for one person might be too much for another. Be careful not to take on too much at once. You might start by adding one or two activities to your routine and see how you feel. You can always add more. Remember—participating in activities you enjoy should be fun, not stressful.

For More Information About Participating in Activities

America’s Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal

A Federal website to help people find volunteer opportunities in State parks and other areas with natural and cultural resources. You can search by location and type of activity such as “tour guide” or “botany.”

Corporation for National and Community Service
1-800-942-2677 (toll-free)
1-800-833-3722 (TTY/toll-free) (email)

A Federal agency aimed at improving lives, strengthening communities, and fostering civic engagement through service and volunteering. Learn about volunteer programs and research initiatives.

Experience Corps
AARP Foundation
1-202-434-6400 (email)

Members tutor and mentor children in cities across the country and provide literacy coaching, homework help, and consistent role models, as well as committed, caring attention. Find a program near you and read about how the program has made a difference in the lives of the volunteers, children, and children’s families.

Senior Corps
1-800-942-2677 (toll-free)
1-800-833-3722 (TTY/toll-free)

A program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that works with thousands of nonprofit organizations and local agencies—both secular and faith-based—to promote service opportunities for older Americans. Learn how to get involved in a variety of volunteer activities near you.

United We Serve
1-800-942-2677 (toll-free)
1-800-833-3722 (TTY/toll-free)

Part of the Federal Government’s nationwide service initiative, this online resource helps you find volunteer opportunities in your community. You can also find out how to create your own volunteer opportunity and register it on the website.


A nonprofit organization that helps people find volunteer opportunities that fit their interests and needs. You can learn how to get started and register on their website for email alerts.

For more information about health and aging, contact:

National Institute on Aging
Information Center

P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
1-800-222-2225 (toll-free)
1-800-222-4225 (TTY/toll-free)

Sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA.

Visit, a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.


National Institute on Aging 31 Center Drive, MSC 2292, Bethesda, MD 20892