There’s no denying that caregiving can be a stressful and demanding responsibility, but despite all the stress and hardships, there are many benefits that come along with this rewarding responsibility. As a caregiver, you are given the opportunity to care for someone who cared for you when you were young. This role reversal may seem strange at first, but it is fulfilling none the less. You’re also given the opportunity to spend quality time with your loved one, bringing with it the possibility to become even closer than you were before.
But there’s one other unexpected benefit confirmed by a recent study led by Johns Hopkins: family caregivers live longer.
A Myth Debunked
Researchers used results from a previous study called Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS). Out of the total 30,000 participants in the REGARDS study, 3,503 were family caregivers, which is why researchers used this study to compare the death rates of the 3,503 family caregivers with a sample of 3,503 non-caregivers. To ensure accuracy, 15 variables that commonly affect one’s mortality risk were taken into account, including health history, lifestyle behaviors and demographics.
The study’s results are so surprising because it has been a commonly-held belief that caring for a loved one increases one’s health risk, but this is simply not the case. In fact, family caregivers have an 18 percent survival advantage when compared to non-caregivers, meaning their life expectancy is approximately nine months longer. No subgroup of caregivers sampled in the REGARDS study had a greater mortality risk than any of the other caregiver subgroups.
What’s even better is that longevity was not the only health benefit seen among these caregivers. According to the study’s lead author and the director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health David L. Roth, “In many cases, caregivers report receiving benefits of enhanced self-esteem, recognition and gratitude from their care recipients.”
This is the second surprising study released concerning family caregivers as the first study revealed that an increasing amount of millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 are becoming caregivers.
The Key To Caregivers’ Longevity
So why exactly do family caregivers live longer? Unfortunately, this Johns Hopkins-led study was unable to fully answer this question, but Roth does suggest that this health benefit is seen among family caregivers that willingly take on this responsibility and those who do so at a manageable level.
Another possible explanation is that there has been a recent rise in awareness of caregiver stress (also called caregiver burnout). Below are some of the most common signs of caregiver stress:
- Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- Getting sick often
- Neglecting to take care of self
Knowing the signs of caregiver stress is only the first step, however. It’s just as important to know how to prevent it:
- Take care of yourself
- Seek help/advice
- Educate yourself
- Enlist professional help
- Be realistic
- Don’t be so hard on yourself
As a caregiver, it is important that you realize your own limitations. Realize that you are doing the best you can, and you’ll be able to enjoy these health benefits and enjoy a long life as a family caregiver.