Family Caregiving Can Benefit Caregiver Health

Family caregiving can improve mental health, study shows.

By Chris Berry

Family caregiving can be extremely stressful and potentially detrimental to the caregiver’s health, however, studies have revealed that people who care for a family member live longer than comparable people who aren’t caregiving.

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Although scientists didn’t ask the caregivers what they attribute their healthier and possibly happier lives to, 3,503 people were surveyed to better convey the overall caregiving experience.

Among those surveyed, only 17 percent said they had high levels of caregiving strain, with the majority putting in less than 14 hours of care each week.

“The burden of caregiving certainly can be overwhelming and negative to health,” says David Roth, director of the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the study. “But those are not necessarily the typical experience.”

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Originally gathered for a multiyear study on stroke risk, the study data included people being care for with a wide range of health problems. With an average age of 64, the caregivers were more likely female of white or African-American descent.

Researchers found that family caregivers were 18 percent less likely to die than noncaregivers over six years.

Leah Eskinazi, director of operations for the Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco offered her theory on what made life better for the caregivers.

“There are people who find caregiving very rewarding,” Eskinazi told Shots. “They feel really good that they can give back to Mom, for example, because Mom was really there for them when they were growing up. Maybe they weren’t the best kid, but as they’ve aged they can have a more balanced healthier relationship and heal some of those wounds.”

Eskinazi added that importance of the type of care required. Caring for an individual with dementia takes a greater toll because the person is dealing with a long inevitable decline. “You’re caring for someone who can’t voice their preferences,” she says. “You’re making decisions for another person and for yourself, and that can last for a long time. It’s tough.”

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In contrast, caregiving for someone after a stroke can be extremely positive. “There’s a lot of energy going into helping that person recover,” Eskinazi says.

If the person receiving care has the ability to be grateful it makes a dramatic difference. “To have someone stick by you, or a group of people stick by you, that’s pretty cool,” Eskinazi says. “It gives you an opportunity to say thank you.”

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