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A new study has found that older people who spend at least 14 hours a week caring for an ill spouse tend to live longer than others.
“These findings suggest that caregivers may actually benefit from providing care under some circumstances,” said U-M researcher Stephanie Brown, lead author of the study report. “Previous studies have documented negative health effects of caregiving. But the current results show that it is time to disentangle the presumed stress of providing help from the stress of witnessing a loved one suffer.”
Researchers studied seven years of data from the U-M Health and Retirement Study, which surveys more than 22,000 Americans over the age of 50 every two years. For this particular study, they focused on 1,688 couples who lived on their own.
At the beginning of the study in 1993, both people in each couple reported on the help they received from their spouse. This included a list of activities, such as eating, dressing and bathing, preparing meals, managing money and taking medications.
The results showed that about 81 percent received no help at all from their spouse, while nine percent received less than 14 hours of help per week. The remaining ten percent reported getting at least 14 hours of help per week.
During the duration of the study, 909 people died (27% of the study population). After analyzing the data, researchers found that the people providing 14 hours or more per week of care to their spouse tended to live longer than those who provided no care at all.
“There is growing recognition that economic decisions may be influenced by complex motivations, not limited to self-interest,” Brown said. “We don't know yet exactly how caregiving motivation and behavior might influence health, but it could be that helping another person---especially someone you love---relieves some of the harmful stress effects of seeing that person suffer.”
These findings were published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Source: Univ. of Michigan Press Release