this epidemiological and cross-sectional study describes the burdens and emotional distress observed among caregivers of elderly people. it was carried out in 2009 with 124 caregivers living in the city of ribeirao preto, sp, brazil, using the following instruments: the zarit burden scale and the self-reporting questionnaire (srq-20) for caregivers. data analysis was carried out in the spss, version 15.0, using descriptive, univariate (frequency tables) and bivariate (contingency tables for qualitative variables) statistics. among the caregivers, 85.6% were women, with an average age of 56.5 years, spent an average of 12.4 hours daily with care, and 57.6% of them had mild to moderate burdens. multiple linear regressions revealed that older adults' functional dependence and caregivers' gender and time spent weekly providing daily care were predictors of being burdened (p<0.05). burden is also a risk factor for emotional distress (p<0.05). it is important for nurses to use protocols based on risk factors to evaluate caregivers in order to prevent burdens from developing.