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Elderly Caregiving: Choices, Challenges, and Resources for the Family

By many estimates, the group of American citizens 65 years and older will quadruple in the next three decades. With this expected population growth many of us in the upcoming years will be faced with primary or secondary caregiving for a loved one.

Numerous gerontological research studies report that family members provide nearly 82 percent of the necessary care for an elder family member. Oftentimes there is one primary caregiver. This person is most frequently the elder’s child/children or spouse. There may also be a secondary group of individuals offering support to the elder and the primary caregiver. They could be extended family members, as well as friends.

The Caregivers
The caregivers must often provide care under complex circumstances, often balancing the concerns of their own immediate families, their careers, and their responsibility for elderly caregiving. In fact, caregiving can often be defined as providing unpaid assistance for the physical and emotional needs of another person, ranging from partial assistance to round-the-clock 24-hour care. Caregivers can also be considered primary and secondary. Several studies report the primary is most often a daughter or spouse. The secondary caregivers are most often other family and close friends, as well as those who are not relatives. Secondary caregivers tend to be less frequently involved in the personal care, although help with support of the elder and respite of the primary caregiver.

Feelings and Experience of the Caregiver
Often as the illness or disability condition progresses in aging, the amount of caregiving increases rapidly with little warning. Along this journey of caring also comes a wide range of emotions and circumstances that may be confusing or appear conflictual by the caregiver. For example:

Care for the Caregiver

All things considered, one can imagine the incredible importance of the caregivers being attuned to caring for themselves. Many studies report that when there is a strong bond among the caregivers and the elderly that the caregivers feel less stress. However, this may not necessarily be the case at particular points in providing care; therefore, taking care of oneself is important to the entire process. All too frequently caregivers are unwilling, perhaps ashamed to ask for help because they perceive this to be a sign of inadequacy, perhaps even failure. The caregivers cannot be expected to do it all and it is imperative to set limits. To provide effective care, one needs to maintain one’s own health. In fact, neglecting your own care may have long-term consequences, not only for you, but also for the person who needs your care. The following items are often neglected by caregivers:


Possible Resources for the Elderly

There are numerous private, community, and government sponsored resources for the elderly and their caregivers. Home delivered meals (often called “Meals on Wheels”), adult day care centers, group living facilities, multicultural centers, religious programs, geriatric social workers, and home health care agencies are examples. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the local community senior and cultural centers are also fine examples of resources. At UCSF there is also the Goldman Institute on Aging at the Mount Zion Medical Center, and the UCSF Auxiliary Services that offers elder care consultation and referral services.

Ten Tips for Family Caregivers


As our elderly population increases more rapidly than ever before, and the large numbers of us become caregivers at some point in our life, potentially stressful experiences may await us. However, caring for an elderly individual can be highly rewarding. It may strengthen relationships among family members with numerous opportunities to work together. It is an opportunity to express love and appreciation for the support the elder has given you. Take good care of the elderly, as well as take great pride in yourselves, family, and friends.