Are you one of the 65 million people currently caring for a loved one? While most days might test your patience, increasing your stress and, perhaps, your blood pressure, a recent study has actually found that being a caregiver can extend your life expectancy. The study, performed by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, suggests that caregivers have an 18 percent lower death rate than their non-caregiving counterparts. This roughly translates to an extra nine months of life for caregivers.
Funded by the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the focus of the study was originally on the excess of stroke risk in African Americans over the age of 45 living in the Southeast, which has been dubbed the “nation’s stroke belt.” The researchers examined potential differences in death rates among 3500 family caregivers over the course of 6 years and compared the results to 3500 non-caregivers, who were matched on demographics, health history, health behavior, and other variables.
David Roth, Director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, and his colleagues found that the benefit of being a caregiver was consistent throughout.
“In many cases, caregivers report receiving benefits of enhanced self-esteem, recognition and gratitude from their care recipients,” said Roth. “Thus, when caregiving is done willingly, at manageable levels, and with individuals who are capable of expressing gratitude, it is reasonable to expect that health benefits might accrue in those situations.”
Roth’s study might need to dig deeper, especially when you consider a report released by Express Scripts in August 2013, which stated that caregivers are 29 percent more likely than non-caregivers to use anti-anxiety medication and describe themselves to be in poorer health.
But perhaps it’s not the caregiving that has the most direct effect on health--it might just be the way that people choose to deal with the stress that comes along with caregiving. If they are able to ask for help, talk about their feelings openly with friends or a professional therapist, and can see the joy in caring for someone whose time on this earth is fleeting, then it seems like a no-brainer to think that the experience would have a more positive effect on them.
What do you think?
Hilary Young is the Communications Manager for Medical Guardian. She is dedicated to helping educate seniors and their Caregivers about how to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.
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