Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Good News for Caregivers

Family caregivers live longer than their peers

Caring for a disabled family member can be emotionally taxing, physically draining, and financially challenging. However, for those who bear such responsibilities, comes great joy, fulfillment, and memories. Not to mention, possibly a longer life. It's true! New research has brought to light a new positive to being a caregiver. 

In a 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. 
The finding was actually a completely surprise.

"(We want to) emphasize the positive message that caregiving is a healthy thing that we should be doing in our families," says lead study author Dr. David L. Roth, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, to Reuters Health.

Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, who directs the Geriatric Education Center 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. They didn't all have their ill family member living with them full time. Some caregivers may have just visited their charges, the report indicates. "Previous studies that have reported high stress and increased mortality have focused on dementia," said Gallagher-Thompson.
In the past, researchers have found just the opposite - an increased risk of poor mental and physical health among people caring for their spouse or a person with dementia, for example. However, these were isolated cases of small sample size. Moreover, in contrast, this study did not distinguish between caregivers of people with dementia and those with other conditions.

Roth noted that poorer health among caregivers is "undoubtedly true" in some cases, especially among those caring for people with dementia. However, he highlighted that "caregiving stress has been over exaggerated". 

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 caregiving caused them "high strain." Roughly 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.

During the nine years the study was conducted, about 7.5 percent of caregivers died, compared to about 9 percent of the same number of non-caregivers. This averages to an 18% lower death rate among caregivers than among their non-caregiving counterparts.

"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.

So keep it up caregivers! 
SOURCE: bit.ly/H6ejhF American Journal of Epidemiology

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