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Caregivers Live Longer, Study Finds

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Contrary to popular belief, a new study suggests that being a caregiver for a family member with a disability may lead to a longer life.

In a study looking at data on more than 7,000 people — about half of whom were caring for a loved one with a disability or chronic illness — researchers found that caregivers saw a nine-month increase in life expectancy.

“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 Roth, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health and first author of the study published this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology. “We did not find any subgroup of caregivers in the (study) sample that appeared to be vulnerable to increased mortality risks.”

Roth and his colleagues compared data on 3,503 family caregivers to that of 3,503 non-caregivers. All of those studied were over age 45 and the two groups were matched based on demographics, health history, health behaviors and other factors.

After six years, “significantly fewer” caregivers had died compared to the non-caregivers, the study found, with caregivers experiencing “an 18 percent reduced rate of death.”

The researchers did not find any groups of caregivers who failed to see greater longevity, but they acknowledged that their results may not extend to all types of caregivers.

“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. “Public discussions of caregiving should more accurately balance the potential risks and gains of this universal family role.”

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. vmgillen says:

    It’s not the caregiving per se, Actually, caring for others has been shown to extend life, and support recovery efforts (think of AA Sponsors, eg) and all kinds of good stuff. It’s caregiving with no support, caregiving as constand battle, that makes for problems.

  2. Vanita says:

    Couldn’t agree more with vmgillen – what’s so challenging is constantly reapplying for the same finite services, never being assured of support, not getting sufficient support and / or the right support. However, I would say the care giving experience is hugely influenced by the needs of the person you’re caring for. Severe intellectual disabilities, behavioural issues and dementia can make caring incredibly challenging and overwhelming. And the more difficult it is, often the less support is available due to demand and the cost of providing this – the ‘pointy end’ of care.

  3. Leticia Velasquez says:

    In his landmark book “Man’s Search for Meaning” based on his observations while in a Nazi prison camp, Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl made the same observation. Those who had religious faith or something other than themselves to live for (ie a relative who needed them) survived the horrors of the camps.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    The study abstract indicates this is a study of stroke victims/caregivers.
    Specifically 264 caregivers died during the study period vs. 315 non caregivers
    who died. Whether this can be inferred to apply across all types
    of caregiving is a great leap for me–any mom who takes care of
    a hyperactive autistic youth vs. say an 86 year old stroke victim is
    the same? Statistics are always interesting. Perhaps a more complete
    version of the article would be appropriate instead of a “headline”
    grabber?

  5. Clarissa says:

    Yes, this is consistent with other research showing that caregivers who are stressed have early aging (telomeres) but those who are not stressed do not have the same association. Parenting a child with Down Syndrome has been shown to have advantages for parents. And parents who retain a life outside of their caregiver role (e.g. continue to work) do better than those who give up their own needs and identity to become full time 24/7 caregivers. I don’t agree that caregiver stress is related to the service needs of the person being served. It is more related to the support available and the match between the support and the need. That varies. Many supports are easier to access for people with higher service needs.

  6. Clarissa says:

    So the policy message is that caregiving is not inherently bad for the health of caregivers, but we need adequate public and private resources to ensure good outcomes for caregivers and people with disabilities.

  7. Justme says:

    We live as long as we do because we fear what will happen to those we care for without us. Dealing with the insanity of service systems, grouchy government employees, medicaid, medicare and all of the rest is not something that is the least bit easy especially if you have a serious illness or disability. We stay alive longer because we have to. By the way, 9 months is hardly a life increase that is worth all the danged stress!

  8. Gurudatt Kundapurkar says:

    Two thoughts come to my mind on reading this interesting article on the study of longevity linked with caregiving : a – Self-care is most likely when the caregiver finds the necessity of compassionate support to the ailing person, especially when the health issue is known to be chronic and incurable. I would think what Nature has endowed every mother the desire to be fit and active enough for compassionate caring of her child, sick or healthy, the long-haul caregiver unconsciously acquires longevity skills. b – If this discovery is equally applicable on a larger scale, the community should be able to motivate & enlist ‘non-affected’ members of the society as caregivers, with longevity as an additional Unique Selling Proposition.

  9. rellsper says:

    I keep praying to God that I live long enough to care for my son as long as he needs me. It gives me more of a will to survive and stay healthy.

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