FAMILY CAREGIVING can take a terrible toll on a spouse, daughter or son. Taking care of a declining elder can shave years from our lives. If you or someone you care about is in that role or expecting to be down the line, consider these facts and recommendations.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, research has found that caregivers suffer from high levels of stress, frustration and depression; sometimes exhibit harmful behaviors such as increased use of alcohol or other substances; often neglect their own care; and have higher mortality rates than noncaregivers of their age.

Caregivers often underestimate the impact of their all-consuming role. Glen Feigelman, LCSW, a social worker at Alameda Hospital, often sees signs of caregiver burnout such as being irritable and resentful; feeling overwhelmed; crying; feeling depressed; using more alcohol or sedatives; feeling isolated and lonely; negative changes in sleeping, eating and weight; and neglecting other parts of life.

His tips for preventing burnout include paying attention to your own limits and feelings; asking for help and support from family, friends and a personal support network; participating in a caregiver support group; learning how to relax; and seeking professional help if you are becoming depressed or are directing anger toward your care recipient.

He encourages stressed caregivers to use outside services such as adult day health care programs and trained caregivers from agencies.

Feigelman also suggests exercising regularly; taking walks in nature; taking time for hobbies and friends; meditating or doing yoga or tai chi; getting a massage; or writing in a journal about feelings and things to be grateful for.

Because burnout often creeps up on caregivers, it is important to recognize it and consider a realistic first step toward relief and good health. Caregivers need and deserve their own healthy and satisfying life.

Caregiver resources on Feigelman's list include: free local information and referrals (800-510-2020), Family Caregiver Alliance (800-445-8106 or www.caregiver.org), Alzheimer's Association (800-660-1993 or www.alz.org/norcal), local senior centers and emergency response services from companies such as Vital Link (800-752-5522) or Lifeline (800-380-3111).

Growing Older is written by Sandra J. Cohen, R.N., and Roger Cormier, M.A., of Cohen Cormier Geriatric Care Managers, which provides care assessments, home care, placement assistance and care management. Reach them at 925-945-8855, 510-652-3377 or www.eldercaremanagers.com.