Objective - To assess the deleterious effects of waiting for admission to a nursing home on the state of health of patients and their informal caregivers, and on the burden of caring. Design and participants - Prospective longitudinal study consisting of interviews with informal caregivers during the period on the waiting list and after admission of the patient to a nursing home. Analysis of patients' files on diagnosis, date of registration on the waiting list, and date of admission to nursing home. Setting - Ninety three patients registered on waiting lists for admission to a psychogeriatric nursing home in two regions of Amsterdam. Results - Seventy eight of the 93 patients were admitted to a nursing home. The burden on the caregivers declined after admission of the patient but depressive symptoms did not. After 6 months a subgroup of 19 caregivers whose relatives were still waiting to be admitted were interviewed. The health of these patients remained stable during this waiting period and only problems in activities of daily living increased. The burden on these 19 informal caregivers and their state of health remained stable during the waiting period. Conclusions - A decline in the state of health and a rise in the burden on caregivers during the waiting period did not occur. However, a decrease in the burden and an improvement in mental health could have started earlier if patients had been admitted earlier.