Risks for Family Caregivers

In their activities and roles, family caregivers experience considerable burden, stress, and disruption of their own well-being and social activities and research shows that they are at risk for emotional and physical health problems. For example, according to a 1999 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, highly strained family caregivers are at risk for premature mortality (Schulz & Beach, 1999). Other studies indicate that caregivers are at risk for increased mortality, coronary heart disease and stroke, particularly under conditions of high strain (Haley, et al., 2010; Lee, Colditz, Berkman, & Kawachi, 2003a, 2003b). There is also evidence that women take on more caregiving tasks, report more care recipient problems, and experience more distress due to caregiving than male caregivers (Pinquart & Sorensen, 2005; Yee & Schulz, 2000).

CaregiverOlder adults in caregiver roles may be particularly vulnerable because caregiving demands may tax their health and physical abilities and compromise their immune response systems, and the stress associated with caregiving can exacerbate existing chronic health conditions (Navaie-Waliser et al., 2002). Older caregivers may also be at increased risk for unintentional injuries such as falls, cuts, scrapes and bruises that can range from minor to serious (Hartke et al., 2006).

Due to the demands on their time, caregivers are less likely to engage in preventive health behaviors than non-caregivers and thus neglect their own health (Schulz, 1997) and may be at increased risk for medication use (Vitaliano, Zhang & Scanlon, 2003). There is also evidence that family caregivers in certain caregiving scenarios -- for example, those caring for a loved one with a brain injury -- may be more likely to encounter verbal abuse from the care recipient or a family member (Erosa, Elliott, Berry & Grant, 2010; Stern, 2004).

The negative effects on caregivers don't stop at health concerns, either. Caregivers, particularly younger caregivers, often experience disruptions to their education, putting school on hold or dropping out entirely,which can impact their future career and earnings (National Alliance on Caregiving, 2005).


Erosa, N., Elliott, T., Berry, J., & Grant, J. (2010). Verbal and physical abuse experienced by family caregivers of adults with severe disabilities. Italian Journal of Public Health 7,2, 76-84.

Haley, W. E., Roth, D. L., Howard, G., & Stafford, M. M. (2010). Caregiving strain estimated risk for stroke and coronary heart disease among spouse caregivers: Differential effects by race and sex. Stroke, 41, 331-336.

Hartke, R.J., King, R. B., Heinemann, A. W., & Semik, E (2006). Accidents in older caregivers of persons surviving stroke and their relation to caregiver stress. Rehabilitation Psychology, 51,150-156.

Lee, S., Colditz, G., Berkman, L., & Kawachi, I. (2003). Caregiving and risk of coronary heart disease in U.S. women: A prospective study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 24, 2, 113–119.

Navaie-Waliser, M., Feldman, P.H., Gould, D.A., Levine, C., Kuerbis, A.N. &, Donelan K. (2002) When the caregiver needs care: the plight of vulnerable caregivers. American Journal of Public Health, 92, 409-413.

National Alliance for Caregiving (2005). Young Caregivers in the U.S. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from http://www.caregiving.org/data/youngcaregivers.pdf

Pinquart, M. & Sörensen, S. (2005). Ethnic differences in stressors, resources, and psychological outcomes of family caregiving: A meta-analysis. The Gerontologist, 45, 90-106.

Schulz, R., & Beach, S.R. (1999). Caregiving as a risk factor for mortality: The Caregiver Health Effects Study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 15, 2215–2219.

Schulz, R., Newsom, J., Mittelmark, M., Burton, L., Hirsch, C. & Jackson, S. (1997). Health effects of caregiving: The Caregiver Health Effects Study: An ancillary study of The Cardiovascular Health Study. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 19, 110-116.

Stern, J.M. Traumatic brain injury: an effect and cause of domestic violence and child abuse (2004). Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 4,179-181.

Vitaliano, P.P., Scanlon, Z., & Zhang, H.M (2003). Is Caregiving hazardous to one’s physical health? A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 6, 946-972.

Yee, J.,L & Schulz, R (2000). Gender differences in psychiatric morbidity among family caregivers: a review and analysis. Gerontologist, 40, 2, 147–164.