Approximately 66 million Americans are providing care to a family member or friend who is chronically ill or disabled. The impact of this role on the caregiver can take an enormous emotional and physical toll and lead to caregiver burnout.

If you are one of these individuals, it is vitally important to remember that you are not alone in this important and most likely stressful role. There are a number of strategies available to help manage the impact a caregiver role can have on your life, as well as provide valuable resources that you can access to provide assistance, education and support.

Around 42 million Americans are acting as caregivers while also working outside of the home. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has created an excellent guide entitled Juggling Work and Caregiving. Written from the first-person perspective of author and live-in caregiver Amy Goyer, this book supplies practical resources, insight and tips for the working caregiver both day-to-day and while planning for the future. This guide can be downloaded free of charge and can be accessed at AARP.org.

The AARP online resource center also features support forums, expert columns and chats, customizable action plans and a tool for the caregiver to find local chapter support in your community.

Oftentimes a caregiver simply needs to take a break outside of the home and have someone step into his or her role on a short-term relief basis. This type of downtime is referred to as respite care. The ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center promotes the development of respite and crisis care programs in the United States. Included among the available resources is the National Respite Locator, a tool to help caregivers and professionals locate varying degrees of respite care in their community. Webinars, event listings, program information, products and publications can be accessed at archrespite.org.

While the physical and emotional stress on a caregiver can be enormous, it is often not recognizable or apparent. The American Medical Association has developed a Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire that an individual can take to identify possible areas of concern. The assessment asks a series of questions to be completed by the caregiver before they rate their answers. Its an excellent tool for the caregiver to self-interpret their level of mental health. If a high degree of distress is apparent, the questionnaire directs the caregiver to bring it into their physicians office for a discussion to determine risk areas and provide early intervention. In addition, it provides helpful links and appropriate resources for the caregiver to address their wellbeing. The American Cancer Society provides access to this questionnaire at cancer.org.

Caring for a loved one can be a very rewarding and fulfilling time for the caregiver. Knowing available resources, support groups, networking opportunities and educational forums can only enhance this relationship and help to alleviate some of the physical and emotional stress that can develop.

Michele Mongillo, RN, MSN,is a clinical director who has over 20 years of nursing experience in a variety of settings including acute care, head/spinal cord injury rehabilitation and long-term care.