When you think of disease and complications regarding one’s health, stress is usually a large contributing factor. Due to increased levels of stress, caregivers are often viewed as a population who’s health is at risk. However, this is not necessarily true.
In fact, new research suggests that family caregivers actually live LONGER than those who do not provide care. Within multiple studies, it was found that caregivers who assisted disabled or chronically ill family members, actually lived longer.
Study: Family Caregiving Linked to Longer Life Expectancy
Within this study, Dr. David Roth focused on 3,500 caregivers who were matched with a non-caregiver. Not only was it found that caregiving wasn’t associated with increased health risks, but they actually had an impressive 18% lower death rate in comparison to those that were non-caregivers. This was seen over the course of six years.
Although this study did not account for the TYPE of caregiving that took place, it still displays that improved health is a possibility due to caregiving. Dr. Roth suggests that if a role is highly stressful, this can be managed, yielding positive effects. In this case, the key positive effect was an extended life.
This is important, because the media often portrays caregiving as dangerous. In reality, this could deter individuals from filling a role in their family which may be fulfilling and satisfying. It’s important to be aware of the possible health risks, but it’s also essential that people understand the benefits of caregiving as well.
Further Study Results Which Yield Positive Benefits
While focusing on caregiving, physical and mental health are typically a concern. It seems as though benefits are often hidden and not as commonly spoke of. Based on the toll that caregiving takes on some individuals, strong benefits may seem counterintuitive.
Once again, a study was conducted which yielded positive results in terms of lifespan. Dr. Fredman studied caregivers and non-caregivers in four US locations (Baltimore, Portland, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis). Over eight years, it was found that caregivers did exhibit higher levels of stress; but once again, they displayed lower rates of mortality in comparison to non-caregivers.
Within the same areas, 900 women were studied. These participants were considered to be high-intensity caregivers, yet they maintained stronger physical performance over their non-caregiver counterparts. Caregivers performed better on tests that looked at grip strength, walking pace and the speed at which they could rise from a chair. This group also declined less in terms of their performance over the course of two years.
Yes, their physical performance was better, but what about their cognitive functioning? Once again, Dr. Fredman and Rosanna Bertrand (her co-author) re-examined the first pool of women (approximately five years after the original study was published). This time, they focused on their cognitive health.
Again, caregivers performed better on memory tests over a two year period. Although both samples of women were in their early to mid-80s, the caregiving group displayed scores that were consistent with people 10 years younger.
Instead of focusing on caregiver burnout, the phrase caregiver gain should not be ignored. This phrase reflects the fact that although there’s hardships and caregiving can come at a high cost, it DOES bring rewards. These rewards are generally in terms of emotional, psychological or emotional gains. For example, many caregivers enhance their level of confidence in terms of their abilities, they increase family closeness and exhibit personal satisfaction.
Although the women in this sample were more than likely in good health prior to the study (or else they wouldn’t take on the role of caregiving), caregiving does require you to be on your feet a lot. You’re up and going throughout the day, which encourages daily exercise. This is an area that many older women do not focus on, which truly does improve one’s physical and mental health.
It’s also believed that the ‘mental strain’ of monitoring medications, taking care of finances and scheduling, may actually ward of cognitive decline. You know the saying, if you don’t use it, you lose it? This may be a prime example of that. With that being said, there’s no doubt that caregiving is a challenging job. This is why government support programs are essential and should continue to provide much needed care and support.
Focus on the Positive Aspects of Care
Providing support and care as a family caregiver is a huge accomplishment. If you are currently filling this role, then you should be immensely proud of yourself. Caregiving is a tough job both physically and mentally, but when you manage your stress levels and make wise lifestyle choices, it could actually significantly benefit your health and overall well-being.
It is crucial that you focus on some of the positives, instead of directing your time and energy to the negative aspects of care. Although it can be emotionally draining, focus on the time you get to spend with the family member you’re caring for. If you were working a hectic job prior to your caregiving role, you probably weren’t able to spend much quality time with your loved one. Now, you can strengthen your bond.
Many caregivers already feel good about their current caregiving role. In fact, a recent survey found that 83% of caregivers viewed their role as a positive experience. This is because younger generations want to care for those that took care of them. Also, when you are specifically caring for your loved one, you know that they’re receiving excellent care.
Do not let the stresses of caregiving bring you down. When you perceive more benefits, you’re bound to experience a greater sense of satisfaction and personal growth. This growth and enhanced well-being, can create positive effects long after caregiving has ended. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Canadian Caregiver Coalition or directly reach out to Thistlecreek.
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