Caregivers Live Longer! Stress Factors Exaggerated?

3 Generations

FOR YEARS NOW the media has portrayed family caregivers as burned out, unhealthy, depressed and very much in need of help themselves.

“Whose Going to Care for the Caregivers” the headlines shout out.

Mayo Clinic and others publish tips for caregivers to manage stress. Agencies provide caregiver respite services–there are caregiver retreats and even respite camps.

Don’t get me wrong, caregiving can be frustrating, demanding, and stressful. It can impact the health of caregivers, physically and mentally, but it turns these consequences may be very much exaggerated.

A nationwide study matching up 3,502 caregivers age 45 and older with 3,502 non-caregivers based on age, race, gender, educational and income level, health and mental status over a 6-year period has produced some surprising results.

For example, over the 6-year period the death rate of caregivers was 18% lower than non-caregivers.  264 (7.5%) of the caregivers died, significantly fewer than the 315 (9%) of non-caregivers who died.

Conclusion: Caregivers live longer!

Only one if five – 578 – felt their caregiving caused them “high strain.” I would have thought this number would by much, much higher.

“In a way you can say this is good news,” said Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, director of the Geriatric Education Center at Stanford University, “if you’re caring for someone with long-term (illness or disability in some cases), it may actually provide you with some health benefits.”

The study was conducted by the John Hopkins University Center of Aging and Health, lead by Dr. David L. Roth, who said “We want to emphasize the positive message that caregiving is a healthy thing that we should be doing in our families.”

If there is a flaw here, it is that very few of the caregivers studied were caring for someone who lives with them and the majority reported their caregiving duties are 14 hours or less per week.

Still the results are surprising and encouraging. We need more happy caregivers!

–David Bunnell

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