Anyone who has had the task of caring for a loved one will vouch that it is not easy. Caregivers worry and feel for their “patients.” They often run errands and make special visits in between dealing with an already hectic life. Caregivers feel responsible when a family member is suffering and having a bad day. Hospital visits may be frequent and may involve invasive tests and fears around recovery. All of this medical stress triggers big emotions in patients and caregivers alike.
If most people had to take a guess whether or not the devotion of a caregiver to a family member would shorten or lengthen their life, most would choose the former. Stress, after all, can take not only an emotional toll, but a physiological toll as well.
Here’s some good news, however. A new study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health has found that the stress of care-giving doesn’t actually lead to a shortened life. In fact, the average caregiver lives almost a year longer than those who don’t do any care-giving.
For the study, the researchers looked at over 3,500 family caregivers. These caregivers had been previously enrolled in the “Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke” (REGARDS) study. The researchers matched these caregivers with the same number of non-caregivers. When they analyzed some statistics, they found that those who were providing care for a disabled or chronically ill family member had an 18% lower risk of death during the six-year study. These caregivers also showed no signs of increased health risks in terms of their own mental and physical state.
The research team was careful to match caregivers and non-caregivers over a number of different variables such as age, sex, education, medical history and health behavior. This painstaking process helped to verify the accuracy of the results.
Many studies have looked at the negative health impacts of caregiving over the long term but few, if any, have had something positive to say about the stresses of this difficult job. This study is unique in this regard. Hopefully, it will offer a boost to all those caregivers out there who are investing time, energy, and emotions in the caring of another person.
The researchers even tried to find some bad news about the potential toll caregiving can take in terms of physical and mental health outcomes. They analyzed subgroups of caregivers as well—such as the spouses of primary caregivers. Again, results were positive. Even those on the periphery of any caregiving strain failed to show negative health consequences.
The researchers think it all has to do with a willingness to be a caregiver. And caregivers repeatedly reported that they had increased self-esteem from doing something of value and for which there was clearly a great need. Most caregivers received gratitude and recognition from the people they cared for.
Caregiving can be difficult, but not only is it rewarding, it can even make you live longer too! Talk about a win-win situation.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
“Family caregiving linked to longer life expectancy,” Medical News Today web site, Oct. 16, 2013; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/267491.php, last accessed Oct. 17, 2013.
Roth, D.L., et al., “Family Caregiving and All-Cause Mortality: Findings from a Population-based Propensity-matched Analysis,” Am J Epidemiol. October 3, 2013.