Here’s some good news if you happen to be a caregiver as I am. Researchers at Johns Hopkins say caregiving doesn’t take as big a toll on health as has long been thought.
This assumption started when a study done in 1987 of caregivers for people with Alzheimers found they had decreased levels of some immune molecules. From then on, studies “suggested that family caregivers have increased mortality and rates of psychiatric diseases, decreased immune function and life span, and slower wound healing than other people.” Yikes!
David Roth, M.A., Ph.D., professor of medicine and director of the Center on Aging and Health at Hopkins, and his colleagues looked at some recent papers and noticed problems in how the research was conducted. They ended up reviewing 30 studies done between 1987 and 2016 and found the number of people studied was quite small. In more than half the studies, fewer than 50 caregivers were included. But results were interpreted as being universal.
Roth confirmed there is an effect on immunity, but it is far less than previously reported. He characterized it as “generally weak and of questionable clinical significance.”
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than 34 million people in the U.S. provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend in any given year. The value of the services provided by these family caregivers is estimated at $375 billion annually. Those seem to me to be huge figures, but, in fact, some people shy away from caregiving because of all the erroneous information. Roth hopes his study will encourage more people to become caregivers, noting it can actually be a beneficial experience, a pro-social behavior.
in the meantime, Roth’s team are conducting a larger, better designed study to get more information about the connection or lack thereof between caregiving and the immune system.
If you’re a caregiver, have you suffered ill-effects as a result?