Conscious Caregiving Boosts Health for Caregivers

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caregiverHere's some good news on the caregiving front: Boomers sandwiched between children and their aging parents can create a healthier, longer life for themselves, just because they care, according to a new study. Stress no more. It turns out that all that worry has a payback. The nurturing you've given may be repaid by a longer lifespan.

Researchers from the University of Michigan found that if you accounted for the negative impact of stressing over a loved one's illness, that caregiving actually led to longer life. During the course of the study, people who spent at least 14 hours a week caring for a sick spouse were almost 30 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who spent no time helping, according to the research recently published in Psychological Science.

The studies make sense to me.  Compared to all the other "stressors" I've experienced in my life, like being laid off from job, taking care of my aging parents, even when the call to race to ER comes in the middle of the night, is a positive stress. And, I wonder, what would be the stress be like for me if I chose NOT to care when needed? It seems this study is the first positive piece of information I've read about the value of investing our time and caring in caregiving for our parents.  Yet, what if we didn't? What if we couldn't? I know I've found myself in moments when I can't get there, and I know that those are the moments when I feel most stressed. I wonder if I lived always in those moments, would I have more or less stress?

I'd like to pose a different study. What's the cost to lifespan if we choose not to care? Or circumstances hold us back from being able to care?  And who cares that we care? So, what's the health cost to caregivers who don't have anyone caring that they care? What about if we are members of the "sandwich" generation and choose not to pick up the caregiving of our elderly parent baton? Or what if circumstances, such as living across the country, or an employer that has us chained to our desks and not tolerant of absences for our aging parent's hospital stints?

I know for me, the times when a job or an obligation or a circumstance prevented me from racing to care, I was the most stressed. How do you deal with those times when you know you should be present as caregiver, or know you want to, but can't? Please post a comment here and be sure to sign up to join the EldercareABC.com community.

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---Mary Beth Sammons

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