a disabled family member can be overwhelmingly hard. But caregivers may live
longer than those who don't bear such responsibilities, new research suggests.
nationwide study, adults who provided care for a chronically ill or disabled family
member had a lower death rate than a similar group of non-caregivers.
is something of a surprise. In the past, researchers have found just the
opposite – an increased risk of death as well as poorer mental and physical
health among caregivers.
detrimental health effects have been found among people caring for a disabled
spouse or a person with dementia, for example."(We want to) emphasise the
positive message that care giving is a healthy thing that we should be doing in
our families," lead study author Dr David L Roth, director of the Johns
Hopkins University Centre on Aging and Health, told Reuters Health.
Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, who directs the
Geriatric Education Centre at Stanford University School of Medicine in
California told Reuters Health the current study's findings are
"surprising... because prior studies did find an association between
caregiver stress and mortality."Gallagher-Thompson pointed out that the
caregivers included in Roth's study were not heavily stressed, however.
all have their ill family member living with them full time. Some caregivers
may have just visited their charges, the report indicates. The study also did
not distinguish between caregivers of people with dementia and those with other
conditions."Previous studies that have reported high stress and increased
mortality have focused on dementia," said Gallagher-Thompson. Roth noted
that poorer health among caregivers is "undoubtedly true" in some
cases, particularly among those caring for people with dementia. However,
"caregiving stress has been over exaggerated," he said.
Of the 3 503
caregivers included in the study, over 80% said they were experiencing either
no mental or emotional strain or only a moderate level of such strain. Only 578 – or less than one in five – felt their care giving caused them "high
two thirds of the caregivers were female. About a third were adult children,
and about one in five were spouses. Slightly more than half provided care for
less than 14 hours a week. Regardless of the nature of their responsibilities,
caregivers appeared to reap benefits from their own selflessness. Death rates
were 18% lower among caregivers than among their non-care giving counterparts,
Roth and his team report in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
During the 2003-2012 study period, about 7.5%
of care givers died, compared to about 9% of the same number of non-care givers. "In
a way you can say this is good news," said Gallagher-Thompson, who was not
involved in the study.
"If you're caring for someone with
long-term (illness or disability in some cases), it may actually provide you
with some health benefits." Reasons for the lower rate of death among
caregivers may have to do with their own self-selection, Roth said.
Considering the low number of spouse
caregivers included in the study, the non-spouse caregivers who chose to
provide care to their family members "may be healthier, better adjusted
people who have their own house in order," he said. Gallagher-Thompson
thinks maybe altruism, spirituality, and resilience among caregivers also
played a role.
"Some caregivers are able to roll with
the punches," she said. The study's sample was drawn from the national
Reasons for Geographic and racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study of
African American and white adults aged 45 years and older.
participants were largely recruited from the southern region of the United
States. Caregivers from this sample were statistically matched with non-care
givers according to a number of factors, including age, race, gender,
educational and income level, self-rated health, and mental status.
narrow focus on only African American and white adults limits the generalisability
of this study's findings, said Gallagher-Thompson. We have "no idea
whether these findings may apply to other races, cultures, or