Day 2: Is there anything good about caregiving?

November 2, 2011

By Sean Coffey, Policy Specialist, Family Caregiver Alliance

As advocates and people that work with family caregivers and their loved ones, we are often focused on the negative aspects of caregiving.  There are logical reasons for this, for example, the family caregivers we work with often contact us when they reach a breaking point, so we tend to hear about the many stresses involved with being a caregiver.  Or, we focus on the challenges of caregiving because we want our elected officials to be aware of how difficult this role can be and we want them to address these issues through laws and programs that support family caregivers.  However, it’s also important to acknowledge that caregiving can be a positive experience for the caregiver as well as their loved one.

For an adult child taking care of their parent, this can be an opportunity to “give back” for the time and energy spent by a parent in raising their child.  Or, it can provide an opportunity to grow or deepen a relationship.  The majority of Americans prefer to age in their homes, and for many, this wouldn’t be possible without the assistance of family caregivers, so another benefit of caregiving is that it allows people to “age in place.”

A 2009 study on caregivers for stroke survivors asked caregivers about 11 positive aspects of caregiving, and over 90% reported that caregiving “enabled you to appreciate life more.”  Other benefits that ranked high included “made you feel needed (88%),” “strengthened your relationship with others(86%),” and “enabled you to develop a more positive attitude toward life (85%).”  (full chart available here: Benefits of Caregiving)

The authors conclude: “clinicians should make it a high priority to assess and intervene with caregivers on these highly stressful problems but also to identify perceived benefits of caregiving.”

A more recent survey by the National Family Caregivers Association and Allsup looked at challenges of caregiving and their results suggest that caregiver’s views are dependent on how they became caregivers.  For example, caregivers who were thrown suddenly into their roles, as compared to those whose roles developed slowly over years, reported higher concerns about their own health (53% vs. 42%) , getting enough respite care (60% vs. 46%), and their employment situation (42% vs. 31%).  The survey also found that the caregivers who had been caring the longest also were also the most concerned about all of these issues except their employment situation, which became less of a concern.   Forty-three percent of caregivers who had been caring for less than a year reported being concerned about their own health and this percentage grew to 51% for caregivers who have been caring 10 years or more.

The New Old Age blog on the New York Times website also recently examined research that found positive health aspects of caregiving for women, including lower mortality rates, stronger physical performance, and better performance on memory tests.  Dr. Lisa Fredman, the author of the studies, calls it the “healthy caregiver hypothesis” and notes that caregiving require lots of physical activity as well as complex thoughts for monitoring medications, scheduling appointments, and taking over financial management. She also acknowledged that the results of her research may be impacted somewhat by self-selection, with only healthy women (who were capable of caregiving) taking on the caregiver role.

A 2009 study examined family caregivers and found that those who provided 14 or more hours of care per week to their spouse had lower rates of mortality than those who did not provide care to their spouse.   While the study does not address the actual mechanism of mortality being lowered by 14 hours or more of caregiving, they suggest that the action of giving help to another may serve as “stress buffer.”

While the research on the benefits of caregiving is ongoing, these studies do suggest that caregiving can have some positive effects.  While we acknowledge the potential for positive effects of caregiving, we will also continue to advocate that policymakers acknowledge and support family caregivers in their roles as the back-bone of our long-term care system.

6 comments to Day 2: Is there anything good about caregiving?

  • Sean,

    Great information and thank you for this blog; I am curious if you have seen any studies or if you have ever written on caregivers that care for children that have a developmental disability.

    As my children become adults, their well being and my employment and health become a larger concern to me.

    Thanks for any input.
    Kelly Krei

  • Sean Coffey, Policy Specialist

    Hi Kelly,
    Thank you for your question- we receive questions about this topic a fair amount from parents who are thinking toward the future. ARC released a report in June 2011 (http://www.thearc.org/document.doc?id=3140)

    Mass Mutual and Easter Seals also did a report in 2010: (http://www.massmutual.com/planningtools/additional-resources/special-needs/special-care/autism)

    The Wall Street Journal also touched on this topic and estate planning in an article earlier this year: “Taking Care of Disabled Heirs” Sept. 3, 2011 (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904279004576526593704378056.html?mod=WSJ_PersonalFinance_PF4#articleTabs%3Darticle)

  • sl

    A local Y in Brooklyn is interested in starting a group for caregivers. If you or someone you know is a caregiver please take a moment to fill out this survey and pass it along to others.
    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HFWYBZC
    Thank you in advance for your time!

  • Barbie Roberts

    I have been a caregiver for a quadrapalegic for 19 years and while he receives money from the state of NC through a program called Independant Living, he is only allowed 40 hours a week. I am paid 8.50 an hour and have been with him 24/7 and am able to leave for a few hours a day when he is up in his wheelchair. He has no family to help him so I have GLADLY sacrafised the major part of my life for him so that he can continue to live in the comfort of his own home. He was 24 years old when he had a freak accident in the snow that was an historical event for Wilmington,NC(14inches). I came to work for him 3 years after his accident and realized how just one mistake can change your life so drastically and here was a guy who loved life

    and had a wonderful attitude towards his life and his disability. Never feels sorry for himself, selfless and just a great person. I don’t make enough money and haven’t had a raise from the state since 8/2001 but live the best I can and by The Golden Rule and hope that if ever I need care as my very special Dave does that I will have someone like myself to be with me. Caregivers do NOT receive enough appreciation or pay in my opinion and should be recognized on a daily basis for their kind hearts and wonderful commitment to the people they care for family or not. Of course I have made Dave a part of my family and am proud to be called his “Best Friend” and “Caregiver”.

  • Sean Coffey, Policy Specialist

    Thank you Barbie! It’s strange how the “hours approved” are often far less than the hours that are actually worked by the caregiver.

  • [...] 1: 30 Days of Caregiving Day 2: Is there anything good about caregiving? Day 3: Sex and Dementia Day 4: The Fun Stories of Caregiving Day 5: Wait Lists in Medicaid Day 6: [...]

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