careBucking conventional belief, results from a Johns Hopkins-led study suggest that family caregivers who care for disabled or chronically ill family members have an 18% survival advantage compared to statistically matched non-caregivers.

The analysis, which gathered information about more than 3,000 family caregivers, also indicates that providing care for a disabled or chronically ill member was linked to a 9-month extension in life expectancy during the 6-year period of the study.

David L. Roth, PhD, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging Health, emphasizes the implications of the results, as he notes that caregiving is often associated with stress and had been previously linked to increased mortality rates.

“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,” Roth says.

A news release from Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that during the study, researchers conducted an analysis of information gathered in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. Roth’s team reportedly studied whether 3,503 family caregivers in the REGARDS study exhibited differences in rates of mortality from all causes during a 6-year period compared with a matched sample of 3,503 non-caregivers.

The analyses of subgroups of caregivers also aligned with the findings for the overall group of caregivers, according to Roth. “We did not find any subgroup of caregivers in the REGARDS sample that appeared to be vulnerable to increased mortality risks. This includes our analyses of all spouse caregivers and of the spouse caregivers who report experiencing some caregiving strain,” Roth says. If highly stressful situations can be managed or avoided effectively, caregiving may provide some health benefits for both care recipients and caregivers, he adds.

In the release, Roth also acknowledges the limitations of the analysis, noting that he and his colleagues could not rule out the possibility that some subgroups of caregivers might be more vulnerable to increased risk of death. Lack of information about functional status of the care recipients and specifics of the care being provided was the primary cause, the researchers say.

In the future, Roth recommends the study of specific groups of caregivers, highlighting adult children providing regular care to a disabled parent, a rapidly growing group but what he calls “largely unstudied” in comparison to spouses.

[Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine]