This paper reviews recent research on care-giver networks and the concepts and approach that they apply, with particular reference to the support networks of the primary care-givers of older people with Alzheimer's disease. It makes the case for an integrated approach to the explanation of the various combinations of formal and informal support that are found. It argues that more attention needs to be given to transformations in care-giver networks over time, and that this will require more development of both theoretical perspectives and analytical tools. The stages of a care-giver's commitment towards an elderly relative are examined, to understand the associations between changes in the ailing person's needs, the structure of the support network and the primary care-giver's roles. This approach makes useful contributions to the understanding of the development, maintenance and dissolution of supportive ties. Following the work of Pescosolido (1991), we propose an integrated perspective that combines the ‘care-giver career’ approach and the methods of ‘social network’ analysis.