Study disputes notion that caregivers die sooner

Baltimore – Caring for a family member does not increase death risk and may actually increase the caregiver’s life span, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins University.

Using data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study from 2003 to 2012, researchers compared 3,503 caregivers to the same number of non-caregivers with similar demographics and health history. During the follow-up, 7.5 percent of caregivers had died compared with 9 percent of non-caregivers, the study abstract states.

“Taking care of a chronically ill person in your family is often associated with stress, and caregiving has been previously linked to increased mortality rates,” says first author, David L. Roth, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health. “Our study provides important new information on the issue of whether informal family caregiving responsibilities are associated with higher or lower mortality rates as suggested by multiple conflicting previous studies.”

Overall, caregivers were found to have an 18 percent reduced rate of death. Subgroups, such as spouses, had similar results.

While acknowledging limitations of the study, such as lack of details about each caregiving circumstance, researchers concluded being a caregiver may provide “modest survival benefits.”

The study was published online Oct. 3 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.