Give Care, Live Longer?

Caregiver - Masterfile

Caregivers, take heart! A study shows that rather than taking years off your life, providing care for an ill loved one may be associated with an increase in life expectancy. In a six-year study of 3,500 care-giving spouses, adult children and relatives, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that caregivers had an 18 percent reduced rate of death compared to non-caregivers. They also experienced a nine-month increase in life expectancy over the study period.

How to keep caregiver strain from snowballing into depression

Although being the sole or primary caregiver of an ailing loved one can be rewarding, it can also be extremely stressful. The tasks and challenges involved—from bathing, toileting, and feeding to managing medications and doctors' appointments and coping with difficult behaviors—are frequently overwhelming.

Caregivers also often sacrifice their own physical and emotional needs in an effort to provide the best possible care for their loved ones. The resulting anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation, and exhaustion—as well as the guilt for feeling this way—exact a heavy toll that can lead to depression.

The Burden of Caregiving

More than 50 million Americans are caregivers for a family member, and seven million are taking care of someone age 65 and older who needs assistance with daily activities because of a stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, or cancer. Unfortunately, research also indicates that 40 to 70 percent of family caregivers of older adults have symptoms of depression, with between one quarter and one half of them meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Those who care for individuals with dementia are at especially high risk.

And it's a vicious circle, because being depressed or under heavy emotional stress is known to have a negative impact on the well-being of the person being cared for—which in turn puts a heavier burden on the caregiver.

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 07 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 04 Nov 2014