If you’re one of 43 million Americans caring for an aging relative, you know firsthand the physical and emotional pressures that accompany being the sole chauffer, cook, and physical therapist for an ailing person. A caretaker’s life can often revolve around medical appointments and medicine dosages. But what about the caretaker? Who takes care of them? And how does caretaking affect their health?
Currently, medical literature on caretakers shows an interesting divide. On one hand, there are suggestions that caretaking can affect health significantly. For example, a 1999 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that caring for an elderly individual was so “burdensome” to family members that it contributed to an early death. The study concluded that the physical demands of care giving made many caregivers physically vulnerable to health problems. In simple language, people who gave care were often more at risk for death than those that did not provide regular care to a loved one.
However, a more recent study of caregivers by a Boston University epidemiologist, found that while caregivers were more stressed than non-caregivers, their mortality rates were still lower than those of non-care givers. The researchers in this study theorize that caregivers are more physically active than non-caregivers and reap the physical benefits of that activity.
Although researchers continue to study caregivers and debate its risks and benefits, there’s no doubt that caregivers themselves face a number of stresses associated with their care giving duties. More and more organizations have started to offer care giving services to help ease the burden for caregivers. For example, if you’re an AARP member, you can get access to resources for families with aging relatives including a care plan with a registered nurse. If you’re a caregiver, you should also check out the New York Times list of resources for caregivers. Remember, the more you take care of yourself, the better equipped you are for providing care to others.