Study Shows Caregivers Live Longer

Caregiving Paper DollsThe negative aspects of caregiving often make the headlines. Issues such as fatigue, burnout, stress and depression are some of the most common problems associated with caregiving.

A new study is helping to shift the negative outlook on caregiving into a more positive one. In a report, published in the current online version of the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers at Johns Hopkins found that providing care for a chronically ill or disabled family member not only fails to increase health risk, but also is associated with a nine-month extension in life expectancy over the six-year period of the study. The study, which includes data on more than 3,000 family caregivers, suggests that those who assist a chronically ill or disabled family member enjoy an 18 percent survival advantage compared to statistically matched non-caregivers.

“If highly stressful situations can be avoided or managed effectively, caregiving may actually offer some health benefits for both the care recipients and the caregivers, including reduced risk of death for those providing care,” says first author, David L. Roth, Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health. “Negative public health and media portrayals of the risk of family caregiving may do a disservice by portraying caregiving as dangerous, and could potentially deter family members from taking on what can be a very satisfying and healthy family role. Public discussions of caregiving should more accurately balance the potential risks and gains of this universal family role.”

So how can you help manage the stresses of caregiving? Author and Life Coach Yosaif August, of, shared some of his top tips for caregivers with The Mobility Project:

1. Let it be; where you are is where you are.
Family caregivers rarely have a chance to prepare for the demands they have to deal with, and are overwhelmed and scared. Judging yourself, or comparing yourself to some ideal caregiver you can imagine, just adds to your burdens. Accepting yourself where you are is a powerful first step toward planting your feet on the ground, seeing more clearly, and being able to do what you need to do.

2. Sometimes what we need is very simple.
The question, "What do I need right now?" might sound very simple, but it's not so simple for a caregiver who's overstressed. In a calmer moment, perhaps with the support of a good friend, try to identify some ways others might help you: a hug, a ride, walking the dog, online research or a group email to write and send. Each of these is a small thing. Any one of them can create a sense of comfort, relief and new possibilities.

3. Privacy is golden; learn how to set up your "privacy settings."
Caregiving is often an isolating experience. Family caregivers who are handling more than they can healthfully manage often don't even consider reaching out for help because they fear it will mean their family's life will be intruded upon. This is understandable, but doesn't need to be a barrier to getting what you need. Honor your own need for privacy and boundaries. Just as Facebook lets users choose their privacy settings, you can set up your own privacy settings by choosing which people to share information with, and by telling people how, when and where you'd appreciate support.
4. There's more support than you think.
Free websites that are easy to set up and use (such as Lotsa Helping Hands, Caring Bridge and CarePages) can relieve caregivers of the burden of returning hundreds of voicemails and emails by informing people about what's going on and what the family needs. The websites also provide a way for outside people to send messages of love and support.

5. It's time to remember your forgotten strengths.
What strengths do you need right now? Your list might include resilience, patience, assertiveness, courage, grace, tenacity, perseverance, sense of humor, and equanimity. Think of a strength that feels out of reach at the moment. For example, resilience. Now recall a time in your life when you needed to bounce back after a particularly challenging event: an illness, the loss of someone close to you, a setback in your career, etc. Remember your experience of resilience as vividly as you can. If you've done it before, you can do it again. These inner strengths may be rusty from lack of use, but it's never too late to revive them. Draw on them now, as you would from a long-forgotten bank account. You may be surprised how much you have in reserve.
6. Be prepared for wondrous things to happen.
The obvious benefit you can get from reaching out is that by doing so, you are much more likely to get what you need--on practical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels. Beyond these, other wondrous and serendipitous things happen. Surprising people show up or come through in unexpected ways. New treatments and other resources appear. Perfect strangers offer heartfelt prayers and blessings. Transformative experiences often happen to caregivers, their families and even to the people who offer help and support.

About the Author

Cindy Horbrook is the associate editor for HME Business, Mobility Management, and Respiratory & Sleep Management magazines.