Providing everyday care for a close friend or family member can be stressful, and both physically and psychologically demanding. But intensive caregiving may also have health benefits, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.
The study, published in the Gerontologist, suggests that older adults who are high-intensity caregivers are less likely to die than their low-intensity or non-caregiver peers not simply because healthier people are more likely to be up for the task, but also because providing intensive care may protect one’s own health.
“Benefits may include psychological gratification of helping a relative or friend, feelings of having a purpose in life, and greater physical and cognitive activity from performing caregiving tasks,” says study lead author Dr. Lisa Fredman, professor of epidemiology at BUSPH.
Some previous studies on caregiver health have suggested that the stress of caregiving can be harmful, while others have found caregivers to be comparatively healthy — but most of these studies have not controlled for the possibility of caregivers simply being healthier to start with, or considered the different intensity levels that different caregiving cases might involve.
For the new study, Dr. Fredman and her colleagues examined the intensity levels of caregiving among 1,069 women in the “Caregiver-Study of Osteoporotic Fractures” from 1999 to 2009.