Posts Tagged ‘caregiving’

Caregivers: Looking Forward to a Longer Life Expectancy

A new study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins and funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Department of Health and Human Services finds that caregivers may actually benefit from a longer life expectancy compared to their non-caregiving counterparts. The findings indicate that on average, family caregivers live about nine months longer than those who don’t serve as primary caregivers to an aging loved one. Health benefits of caregiving

Caregiver stress typically linked to increased health risk

These findings are surprising in light of the many articles and other studies that have shown that caregivers have higher levels of stress and are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety — which can make them  more susceptible to other chronic diseases and more likely to neglect their own health and wellness needs. Rational thinking would lead you to believe that caregivers would have a shorter lifespan than those not subjected to the many stresses and challenges of caregiving.

Dr. David L. Roth, lead author of the study and director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, says the findings are in direct contradiction with previous research that links caregiving to higher mortality rates. The Johns Hopkins study evaluated 3,500 family caregivers as well as an equal number of non-caregivers. Data was obtained from a pool of more than 30,000 participants in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, and all participants were 45 years of age or older.

Johns Hopkins researchers found that participants in the family caregiver group actually did not experience an increase in health risks — and in fact, they had an 18 percent lower risk of death throughout the six-year study duration.

Caregiving actually has some health benefits

Even more interesting is the fact that evaluating specific sub-groups of the study did not reveal any particular group that showed a higher risk of mortality — even those caregivers who reported at least some caregiving strain (the stress we typically associate with an increased risk of chronic disease and attribute to the previously-believed shorter lifespan).

One finding has emerged from this research that we already know to be true: Many caregivers in the study report feelings of self-worth, greater self-esteem and the joys of receiving gratitude and recognition from the loved ones they care for. In a summary of the findings published at Medical News Today, Dr. Roth says, “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.”

More research needed to evaluate high-stress caregiving situations

It’s important to note that this research does not take into account the specific caregiving duties requires of the family caregivers evaluated, or even the level of care the care recipients required. Researchers do point out that future studies delving into these specific sub-sets of the caregiving population more closely could in fact reveal a higher risk of mortality in particularly high-stress and demanding caregiving situations.

That said, if family caregiving can be arranged in such a way as to minimize stress on the caregiver — such as by splitting up caregiving duties among siblings — there could actually be health benefits obtainable by providing care for an aging family member or other loved one.

Image via Flickr by English Heritage

Post by Angela Stringfellow

Caregiver Resources:

Have you ever had a family member fall ill? Or has someone in your community faced a tragic health diagnosis?  If either of these scenarios have happened to you then you understand the huge need families have for support during this time, but also their lack of energy to reach out to each individual.  Caring bridge offers families a way to reach out to friends for help, support, and simply to keep them updated without having to face the daunting task of contacting each person.  Furthermore,  friends are able to find out how their beloved friend is doing, and what they can do to help the family through their personal website.   Overall, provides an essential resource that we hope to never have to use, but if the situation arises we will be happy we have it.

The Power of Connection During a Health Crisis

CaringBridge was created to help these families stay in touch and provide information, while increasing time available for the patient and their caregiver. CaringBridge websites can be used for cancer supportafter a premature birthduring recovery for a serious injury, or for any health crisis that requires support from family and friends.

Simplify Communication

CaringBridge provides free personal and private websites that connect people experiencing a significant health challenge to family and friends, making each health journey easier. The site provides a place for users to post journal entries and photos, as well as receive messages of hope and encouragement in a guestbook.

Using CaringBridge to centralize communication during a health journey makes it easier to share news, saving time and emotional energy. Everyone can stay in touch, regardless of time zones and area codes.

How to Create a CaringBridge Website

A CaringBridge website can be created at By following a few simple steps, a personalized website complete with privacy options can be started in just minutes. Authors can forward their unique and private CaringBridge website name and address to family and friends.

CaringBridge can be used by patients and families in all types of medical situations including cancer, premature birth, organ transplant, hospice care, serious injury, stroke, rehabilitation and more.

The Power of Connection

When faced with a significant health challenge, connecting with family and friends can help reduce isolation and stress. In a survey of CaringBridge users, 91% of patients agreed that using CaringBridge helped make their health journey easier and 88% of patients agreed that having a CaringBridge website positively impacted their healing process.

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Tackling Decision-Making Among Older Adults

The New York Times recently reported on a familiar phenomenon: A decreased ability to make snap decisions as we age. If you’re providing care for elderly parents, you’ve likely experienced frustration if you’ve been short on time and had to wait for mom or dad to decide on what they want for lunch, what they’d like to wear or what they’d like to do that day. A few minutes can seem like an eternity for busy members of the sandwich generation, who are often tending to the needs of aging parents in between running children to soccer practice or playdates. Older adults take a different approach to decision-making

It turns out there’s a scientific basis for our diminished decision-making capability as we age. Gregory Samanez-Larkin, a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University and co-director of the Scientific Research Network on Decision Neuroscience and Aging, studied decision-making for his doctoral dissertation research at Stanford University. Dr. Samanez-Larkin asked subjects ranging in age from 20 to 85 to consider a set of investment options as he monitored their brain activity. He says the brain systems involved in this type of activity are at the core of decision-making.

Dr. Samanez-Larkin says that the way we make decisions changes physiologically as we age, as the brain takes a different approach to tasks. In a more recent study, to be published this month, he compared two groups: subjects in their 20s and 30s to subjects 60 and older, to determine what types of information subjects found useful in decision-making. In this study, Samanez-Larkin found that older adults tend to take a different approach to making decisions when presented with a difficult choice. When there’s no clear answer, the aging brain can perceive tough decisions as overwhelming. This leads many to opt-out completely, which can be detrimental in real-world situations.

Consider the millions of seniors faced with choosing a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. The many options available and complexity of the programs in general left many seniors feeling helpless. In this case, a total opt-out led to penalties and coverage gaps that could have been avoided.

This doesn’t mean caregivers should make decisions for their aging loved ones, however. Providing ample information to gently nudge the person in the right direction is preferable to giving directives, says Samarez-Larkin.

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Home Care Alleviates Caregiver Stress, Reduces Medical Costs

Home Instead Senior Care, a national network of locally-owned, in-home, non-medical care providers, recently commissioned a study gauging the role home care services play in the overall continuum of long-term senior care. The study, entitled “The Value of Caregiving at Home,” enlisted a panel of unbiased advisors, including medical professionals, members of academia, researchers and senior care experts to ensure the integrity of the research and methodology.  Home care services help reduce medical costs

The research finds that those receiving home senior care report less frequent physician visits, home care recipients average more than twice as many hours of care per week than those not paying for care, and caregivers provide higher ratings for the quality of care received when paid in-home care services are part of a loved one’s care.

Prior research shows that non-medical home care reduces medical costs by about $25 billion in the U.S. each year, primarily by reducing the number of hospital visits. It’s not clear whether that figure calculates the medical costs saved by caregivers, but Home Instead’s study indicates that caregivers report better health when a loved one is receiving paid home care, likely due to decreased responsibilities and stress, allowing caregivers to pay more attention to their own health needs.

Specifically, caregivers of loved ones with dementia report fewer hospital visits when paid home care is involved–18 percent report visiting the hospital as an outpatient wtihin the last year among those whose loved ones were receiving home care, compared to 40 percent when home care services were not involved. reports that 83 percent of caregivers say the task is “very demanding,” and 77 percent describe their loved one’s care needs as “overwhelming.” Home care services support not only the patient, but family caregivers as well by alleviating some of the pressure and providing an additional support system, and it’s an alternative for families who aren’t yet ready to place their loved ones in assisted living or nursing homes.

Home care can also enable family caregivers to continue working, something that many give up (either by choice or lack of choice) to care for their loved ones. This is often the case when adult children are providing care for elderly parents and must continue to work to provide for their own families. Seventy-one percent of family caregivers utilizing home care services are employed, and 51 percent maintain part-time employment.

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