‘Caring for carers’ is high on the United Kingdom policy agenda for community care. Although recent policy advocates the provision of services directly to the carer, research suggests that an alternative way of helping carers is through targeting enhanced services towards the cared-for person. This paper reports a randomised controlled trial of the effects on carer distress of an additional specialist clinical assessment for vulnerable older people at risk of residential or nursing home placement. The sample was composed of 142 informal carers of older people, randomly assigned to receive either the additional specialist assessment or the usual social services assessment. Carers were assessed using the modified Social Behaviour Assessment Schedule (SBAS), and data were also collected on older peoples' service use throughout the study period. Regression analyses indicated that changes in older peoples' behaviour, as opposed to carer or service-related factors, predicted changes in carer distress, and that the carers of the older people who experienced depressive symptoms received the greatest benefit from the specialist assessment. The study suggests that an effective means of improving outcomes for carers may be to target services towards the distressing behaviours of the person for whom they care, with symptoms of depression being particularly important.