In this paper we use Alvesson and Sandberg's strategy of problematisation to analyse the assumptions embedded in the development and use of the concept of ‘care-giver burden’. We do this in order to develop an explanation as to why decades of research into the experience of providing home-based care to a family member with dementia has had little effect in relieving or reducing the ‘burden’ of that care. Though some part of this is undoubtedly political, our analysis suggests that key assumptions of the research limit both knowledge development and intervention effectiveness. Especially problematic are first, an overriding focus on the isolated care-giver–recipient dyad as the appropriate object of inquiry and target of intervention, and second, an absence of an analysis of the materiality of care and care-giving practices. The heterogeneity of care situations, including interrelations among people, technologies, objects, spaces and other organisational worlds, appear in much of the research primarily as methodological problems, variables to be subdued through a more rigorous application of method. The high volume of research and acknowledged low impact of interventions, however, suggests that rethinking the nature of care practices, and how we come to know about them, is necessary if we are to develop and implement strategies that will contribute to better outcomes for people.