Caregiving Systems: Informal and Formal Helpers

Caregiving Systems: Informal and Formal Helpers

Caregiving Systems: Informal and Formal Helpers

Caregiving Systems: Informal and Formal Helpers


Caregiving has emerged as a critical issue in the second half of the life cycle. With the growth of the older population, there have been dramatic increases in the number of people needing care and assistance. The responsibility for care typically falls on families at a time when they have limited resources to meet these needs. At a societal level, the need for care for growing numbers of disabled elders poses a major challenge for how to organize supportive services in an efficient and responsive system.

Bringing together multiple perspectives on caregiving, the authors' explore informal and formal family caregiving and the pivotal issue of how these systems interface and interact. An overview of this variation is provided by examining family caregiving from three perspectives:

• the effects of culture on helping patterns and family responsibility,

• how different disabilities affect patterns of family care, and

• longitudinal perspectives on the impact that caregiving has on family members.


Caregiving families emerged in the 1980s as a frequent topic in the media, in discussions of public policy and long-term care, and especially in social and behavioral research. This attention reflects the central role played by informal caregivers. With the dramatic growth of the older population and the increasing number of people who require care, families remain the first, most reliable, and most acceptable source of assistance. Furthermore, informal caregivers often facilitate the linkages with formal providers, such as physicians, hospitals, community long-term care services, and nursing homes.

The attention to family caregivers has usually highlighted the stressfulness or burdensome nature of some types of care. Both the popular and the research literature have frequently emphasized one type of caregiving situation (e.g., a daughter caught between the demands of two generations, or providing care to someone with Alzheimer's disease). But families, care arrangements, and the context of caregiving vary greatly. Even the degree to which families find similar events or problems stressful can differ considerably, both in baseline comparisons and over time. Our examination of informal care systems focuses on three issues that address variability in family caregiving: (a) culture and its influence on intergenerational relationships and caregiving, (b) comparisons of caregiving across disabilities, and (c) changes in caregivers' experiences over time. Although they are not exhaustive of the variety of caregiving situations or experiences, these topics explore major dimensions of the caregiving situation that are often neglected.

Elena Yu and her colleagues describe caregiving patterns and beliefs in Shanghai. They propose major differences in the impact that care has on . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.