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About Caregiving

What is caregiving?

"Caregiving is the act of providing unpaid assistance and support to family members or acquaintances who have physical, psychological, or developmental needs. Caring for others generally takes on three forms: instrumental, emotional, and informational caring. Instrumental help includes activities such as shopping for someone who is disabled or cleaning for an elderly parent. Caregiving also involves a great deal of emotional support, which may include listening, counseling, and companionship. Finally, part of caring for others may be informational in nature, such as learning how to alter the living environment of someone in the first stages of dementia.

Sociologists generally limit their discussion of caregiving to unpaid workers. Caregivers are typically family members, friends, and neighbors. Sometimes caregiving is done by those affiliated with religious institutions. While caregiving of all types is also done by paid workers such as nurses, social workers, and counselors, this is paid work, and thus is not in the same category. Caregiving rarely refers to the daily care that parents provide for their children, because this is classified as parenting; however, caring for an adult disabled daughter would be considered caregiving because it is outside of the norm of expectations for older adults." (Drentea, 2007)

How many Mainers are providing care now to a loved one?

National estimates conducted in November 2010 show that Maine has approximately 136,959 caregivers, who provide more than 147 million hours of care valued at more than $1.4 billion.  If you would like to connect with other Maine caregivers for support, advice, and companionship, there are groups and other means of support.  

Health Risks of Caregiving

The research literature is full of findings that family caregivers face inevitable stresses and burdens. The role of caregiving is potentially an occupational hazard, and its demands place caregivers at risk for psychological and physical problems. These include increased morbidity and mortality, chronic stress, family conflicts, and failure to meet one’s personal and emotional needs.  Manifestations of caregiver stress and risks include burnout, self-neglect, excessive use of drugs or alcohol, depression, neglect, abuse, and premature institutional placement of the patient. For resources such as free respite care to help cope with these stresses visit our Adult Caregiver Resource page.

Drentea, P. (2007). Caregiving. In  G. Ritzer (Ed.), Blackwell encyclopedia of sociology. Blackwell Publishing. Blackwell Reference Online. Retrieved June 13, 2020, from
Newman SJ, Struyk R, Wright P, Rice M. Overwhelming odds: Caregiving and the risk of institutionalization.  J Gerontol Soc Sci . 1990;45:S173-S183.
Maine Cooperative Extension. (2011).  Retrieved from

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