November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to give thanks to the more than 65 million Americans who care for ill or disabled family members. As the number of caregivers grows, there is good news to share. According to research, taking care of a loved one may help you live longer.
A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology contradicts long-held beliefs about the effects of stress on caregivers. Researchers found that caring for chronically ill or disabled family members did not increase caregivers’ health risks, but rather increased their life expectancy. Researchers analyzed data collected on more than 3,500 caregivers over six years to reach their finding.
Many caregivers in the study said the recognition and gratitude they received from their ill or disabled family members made a difference and boosted their self-esteem. Equally important was managing stress. They noted the positive impact of receiving help from others, getting encouragement and advice from support groups, and having an emotional outlet such as counseling or journaling. Resources such as the National Alliance for Caregiving, Caregiver Action Network and AARP provide caregivers with education and support.
Katherine Puckett, PhD, MS, MSW, LCSW, National Director of Mind-Body Medicine at our hospitals, says patients and their caregivers can better cope with the challenges they face when they communicate openly and spend time together that’s not focused on illness. Dr. Puckett says taking time for fun activities together reduces stress, and helps patients and caregivers solidify their bonds and support one another.
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