Caregivers for seniors may actually benefit from their caregiving experiences — in fact, a new study shows that caregivers live an average of nine months longer than non-caregivers with a similar health background. The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, compared more than 3,500 family caregivers with an equal number of non-caregivers over a six-year period. Each caregiver was matched with a non-caregiver based on 15 demographic and health-related factors.
The findings show that caring for a disabled or chronically ill spouse, parent, child, or other family member did not increase stress-related medical issues, but did increase longevity by about 18 percent. Even those who reported caregiving strain were not at an increased risk of illness or death, according to the study.
There are other positive aspects to caregiving, including emotional and psychological benefits. Caregivers for seniors often reported a sense of self-esteem that was higher than their non-caregiving peers; this is related to the recognition and gratitude they received for their work.
While this is great news for those who provide care for senior family members, the researchers who conducted the stress study have suggested it is only the tip of the iceberg. Many more dimensions of research are needed to get the full picture. For example, the study did not look at the support of the caregivers, or the needs of the family members they cared for.
Some caregivers are asked to give more time and energy than others, and this could make a significant difference in the findings. For instance, the majority of the caregivers in the study were caring for a spouse or a child, yet one of the fastest growing subgroups of caregivers is children looking after their aging parents. If future studies look at these factors, they may find that certain subgroups do not fare as well as others. In short, the research is far from complete, although it’s a positive start for caregiver outlook.
Over the course of the study, the caregivers had a significantly reduced risk of death compared to their non-caregiving counterparts. While more research is still needed to ensure that this applies to all caregivers, the study offers hope. If caregivers can minimize or manage the stress often associated with caring for a loved one, there may also be additional health benefits for caregivers and those for whom they care.
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