Despite the considerable stress of serving as an unpaid caregiver, a new study suggests that caring for a loved one may increase longevity among older women.
The findings, published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, revealed that women who said they were taking care of a loved one regularly had a mortality rate 9 percent lower than that of non-caregivers throughout the study.
While the study did not find a direct connection between caregiving and reducing the risk of death, its authors describe the association as robust. As they point out, the existing literature about the health impacts of caregiving has been contradictory. Research in this area will, therefore, need to continue exploring the potential connection between reduced death rates among women who choose to take on caregiving responsibilities – as well as the reasons why this may be the case.
Women and Caregiver Responsibilities
Today, more than 35 percent of U.S. caregivers are 65 or older, with caregiving services undertaken mainly by older women.
This study followed nearly 160,000 women aged 55 to 79 over roughly 20 years. The participants took part in two assessments ten years apart.
The data was collected in several clinical trials focused on preventing major chronic conditions in older women. However, the assessments included questions on caregiving. Participants were asked whether they were actively providing caregiving aid to a loved one and, if so, how many hours they dedicated to the service weekly. About 41 percent reported serving in a caregiver role anywhere from less than once to more than five times a week.
The women also provided information on several other factors, including depressive symptoms, race, living status, smoking, and history of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.
The women who reported being a caregiver over the two assessments showed not only a 9 percent lower death rate from any cause than those who were not caregivers but also a lower risk of death from cancer or cardiovascular disease. No matter how frequently they reported performing caregiver duties, this proved to be the case. Other factors, including how old the women caregivers were or whether they lived alone, did not appear to affect this result.
Need for Further Research Regarding Caregiving and Decreased Death Rates
Caregiving remains a critical need and will continue as Americans grow older and live longer. According to AARP, 10,000 people in the U.S. are turning 65 each day.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified caregiving – whether paid or unpaid – as a significant public health issue. Because caregiving is such an expensive service, many older people rely on family members to fill the gap and provide care. The resulting burden on family caregivers can include burnout, lost wages, and a lack of support.
“The burden of caregiving demands and their influence on health will be substantial in coming years,” co-author Michael J. LaMonte of the University of Buffalo-SUNY said in a news release. “[It] is an increasingly important focus in epidemiologic research,” he adds.
If you are serving as a family caregiver or considering taking on such a role, do your research. You may not know all the duties involved and could find help through various resources.
If you’re unsure what assistance may be available to you or your loved one, connect with an elder law attorney near you. They may be able to determine what programs you qualify for and how to pay for services.
In addition, you may benefit from checking out the following articles:
- Becoming a Family Caregiver for an Ailing Loved One
- Caregiver Contracts: How to Pay a Family Member for Care
- Survey Uncovers Caregiver Support Needs, Possible Solutions
- Q&A: What Are the Consequences of Becoming a Paid Caregiver for a Family Member?
This article is for informational purposes only and shall not be construed as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship between the reader and Brennan & Rogers, PLLC, or its attorneys is intended. This article should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. Laws may vary from state to state, and the educational materials found in this article may not apply in all jurisdictions. Brennan & Rogers, PLLC | 279 York Street, York, ME 03909 | 207-361-4680 | firstname.lastname@example.org