The common wisdom in the fields of medicine and social work has held that those who care for a long-term seriously disabled person have their lives shortened as a consequence. Compensating anecdotes are often rendered about increased empathy, fulfillment, and so on. But the overriding narrative is generally rather grim.
Now a new study tells the opposite story, as reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology: a large new study shows that caregivers live as long or longer than non-caregivers, although the kind of care (which seems crucial in such a discussion) it not directly discussed in the abstract available online.
“Previous studies have provided conflicting evidence on whether being a family caregiver is associated with increased or decreased risk for all-cause mortality. This study examined whether 3,503 family caregivers enrolled in the national Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study showed differences in all-cause mortality from 2003 to 2012 compared with a propensity-matched sample of non-caregivers. Caregivers were individually matched with 3,503 non-caregivers by using a propensity score matching procedure based on 15 demographic, health history, and health behavior covariates.
“During an average 6-year follow-up period, 264 (7.5%) of the caregivers died, which was significantly fewer than the 315 (9.0%) matched noncaregivers who died during the same period. A proportional hazards model indicated that caregivers had an 18% reduced rate of death compared with non-caregivers (hazard ratio = 0.823, 95% confidence interval: 0.699, 0.969). Subgroup analyses by race, sex, caregiving relationship, and caregiving strain failed to identify any subgroups with increased rates of death compared with matched non-caregivers.
“Public policy and discourse should recognize that providing care to a family member with a chronic illness or disability is not associated with increased risk of death in most cases, but may instead be associated with modest survival benefits for the caregivers.”