Caring for aging parents could help you live longer, study suggests

Caring for an elderly loved one is fraught with challenges. In addition to the stress associated with being responsible for the well-being of your aging parent, caregivers often experience issues ranging from sleep problems to depression. Yet, while there are undoubtedly obstacles associated with caregiving, a new study suggests they may reap some benefits. According to researchers from Johns Hopkins University, those who take care of a chronically ill loved one have an 18 percent advantage in survivability compared to non-caregivers.

Contradicts conventional wisdom
Many people associate caregiving with an increased risk of health problems. It’s an understandable assumption, especially given the high stress levels, but data on thousands of adults taking care of an ill or disabled loved one seems to suggest otherwise. Using statistics from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke, the team compared the death rates of 3,500 caregivers over a six-year period to that of non-caregivers during the same time span.The team found that caregiving does not increase the risk of health issues and also extended the subjects lifespan by an average of nine months.

“In many cases, caregivers report receiving benefits of enhanced self-esteem, recognition and gratitude from their care recipients,” said first author, David L. Roth. “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.”

Need to take the right steps
While the findings run counter to many beliefs, it’s still up to caregivers to ensure that they are taking care of their health while also looking out for their loved ones. After all, if their own well-being suffers, the help they can offer their family members is limited.

There are many proactive steps that caregivers can take to ensure they are in good health, but one of the most important is for them to make time for themselves. Even if it’s just 30 minutes each day to read, exercise or cook a healthy meal, it can take a big strain off a caregiver’s mind. It’s also essential for them not to neglect their own doctors appointments. They may want to join support groups to ease their mental burden, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.