Caregivers Live Longer, Johns Hopkins Study Finds

Wednesday, 16 Oct 2013 02:53 PM

By Nick Tate

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Johns Hopkins University researchers have found people who care for a chronically ill or disabled family member tend to live longer than those who don't — a finding that contradicts long-standing beliefs about the negative health effects of stress on caregivers.

The study, published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology, tracked more than 3,500 family caregivers for six years and found they experienced an 18 percent survival advantage, compared to a similar group of individuals who did not care for ill or disabled loved ones.

"Taking care of a chronically ill person in your family is often associated with stress, and caregiving has been previously linked to increased mortality rates," said David L. Roth, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health.

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"Our study provides important new information on the issue of whether informal family caregiving responsibilities are associated with higher or lower mortality rates as suggested by multiple conflicting previous studies."

According to the Commission on Long-Term Care, family caregivers provide an estimated $450 billion in care each year.

Roth and his colleagues said the study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, suggests caregiving — while stressful for most — may confer some psychological benefits that boost overall health and longevity.

"In many cases, caregivers report receiving benefits of enhanced self-esteem, recognition, and gratitude from their care recipients," said Roth. "Thus, when caregiving is done willingly, at manageable levels, and with individuals who are capable of expressing gratitude, it is reasonable to expect that health benefits might accrue in those situations."

Roth added that some caregivers might be more vulnerable to increased risk of death, particularly in cases where the care provided is particularly difficult and stressful.

"If highly stressful situations can be avoided or managed effectively, caregiving may actually offer some health benefits for both the care recipients and the caregivers, including reduced risk of death for those providing care," Roth said.

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"Negative public health and media portrayals of the risk of family caregiving may do a disservice by portraying caregiving as dangerous, and could potentially deter family members from taking on what can be a very satisfying and healthy family role. Public discussions of caregiving should more accurately balance the potential risks and gains of this universal family role."

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