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Johns Hopkins Study Reports Caregivers Have Longer Life Expectancy

Update Date: Oct 16, 2013 10:28 AM EDT

Over the next few years, the number of senior citizens within the United States will increase drastically. Due to the estimated spike in seniors, several studies have looked into the potential roles of health care professionals and caregivers within the near future. In a new study out of Johns Hopkins, researchers are reporting that caregivers have longer life expectancies than non-caregivers.

"Taking care of a chronically ill person in your family is often associated with stress, and caregiving has been previously linked to increased mortality rates," said first author, David L. Roth, Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health. "Our study provides important new information on the issue of whether informal family caregiving responsibilities are associated with higher or lower mortality rates as suggested by multiple conflicting previous studies."

For this study, the research team used data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, which was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The data involved over 30,000 adults who were 45-years-old or older. Roth and his colleagues analyzed data on 3,503 family caregivers and 3,503 non-caregivers. The groups were matched based on 15 variables, which included health history and demographics.

The researchers calculated that people who cared for a chronically ill or disabled relative had an 18 percent higher survival advantage when compared to people who were not caregivers. The researchers reported that their analyses of the subgroups of caregivers yielded similar results to their analyses of the overall group of caregivers. This consistency suggested that the findings are significant.

"In many cases, caregivers report receiving benefits of enhanced self-esteem, recognition and gratitude from their care recipients. 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," explained Roth. "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."

The researchers believe that more research needs to be done in regards to the growing group of adult children who are becoming caregivers at a much earlier age. The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.   

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