The idea that caring for a chronically ailing or disabled family member might be good for you is so startling, so counterintuitive, that it sends researchers rummaging through their data to see where they went wrong.
“There are hundreds of studies about how caregiving is stressful and bad for your health,” said David Roth. As director of the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health, and someone who has spent 15 years compiling caregiving data, he has probably read most of them.
But his recent study in The American Journal of Epidemiology is the most recent to lend support to an emerging counter perspective, dubbed the “healthy caregiver hypothesis.”
Inserting a few key questions into a large national stroke study, his team was able to compare about 3,500 family caregivers older than 45 with noncaregivers of the same age, gender, education level and self-reported health. The researchers also matched caregivers and noncaregivers for cognitive status and for health behaviors like smoking and drinking — 15 variables in all. The caregivers included spouses (about 22 percent of the 3,500 followed), adult children caring for parents (about a third), and people caring for other family members.
After an average six-year follow-up, he and his colleagues found that the noncaregivers had
significantly higher mortality rates. Nine percent of them had died, compared with 7.5 percent of caregivers, who were 18 percent less likely to die during the six-year...