the objective of this study was to determine the prevalence and factors associated with the needs of caregivers for older adults living in the community. all residents (n = 1,742) of bambuí, minas gerais state, brazil (15,000 inhabitants) aged > 60 years were selected. of these, 92% were interviewed and 86% were examined. the dependent variable "need for a caregiver" was defined as the inability to perform at least one of the basic activities of daily living and/or a mini mental score under 13. some 23% of the elderly required caregivers. after adjustment for confounding, independent and positive associations with the need for a caregiver were found for: age, single marital status, history of alcohol abuse, hypertension, obesity, and use of > 2 prescription drugs. independent and negative associations were found for: level of schooling, familiar income, living alone, total cholesterol > 240mmhg, and having a private health plan. those requiring caregivers presented evidence of worse socioeconomic and health status. the study provides evidence that care of the dependent elderly is a public health problem.