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Can Caregiving Be Good for You?

Can Caregiving Be Good for You?

 

            We’ve all heard the stories, many have experienced the situation and with Americans living longer it is more and more common – being the caregiver for a loved one as their health declines.  Unfortunately, caregivers of all ages often report chronic health conditions of their own – heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, plus others – and at nearly twice the rate of non-caregivers.

            Stressed caregivers may have up to a 60% higher rate of serious illness than non-stressed caregivers of the same age group.  Does caregiving always lead to such a bleak future? Some new research indicates that there are some circumstances in which caregiving

actually has positive benefits; in other words, when caregiving is good for the caregiver.

            A study compared caregivers who were providing “active care” as opposed to “passive care.” Examples of active care are feeding, bathing, toileting, and similar hands-on caregiving. Passive care refers to the caregiver mostly just being present while others provide direct care.

            What were the differences for the caregivers? Caregivers who provided active care tended to have more positive feelings about their caregiving responsibilities than those who provided only passive care. The reason for this difference may be that seniors who actively cared for their partners’ needs and feelings experienced less anxiety about the situation themselves. They felt that they were actively contributing to their partners’ health and well-being. Passive caregivers, on the other hand, may feel more limited in their abilities and therefore less able to participate in maintaining their partners’ well-being.

            A second factor also seemed to be important in positive caregiver outcomes. The researchers called it “interdependence” – the extent to which caregivers felt that they were supporting their partner, as well as their partner supporting them. Some chronic conditions such as dementia can rob much of a partner’s ability to give and receive love and support. A caregiver may come to feel that she does all the giving and receives little in return. Instead of feeling interdependence, the care recipient may feel increasingly dependent – leading to less positive outcomes for the caregiver.

            So, what conditions seem to lead to caregiving being a positive experience for the caregiver? Although there are many, the two that were identified as being active (as opposed to passive) caregiving, and an interdependent (as opposed to a dependent) relationship. These two positive conditions are often present in the early stages of caregiving, but they become more difficult to maintain as caregiving needs increase. The difficult decision, of course, is recognizing when caregiving begins taking too heavy a toll on the caregiver, and then finding the support necessary for the health of both the caregiver and the care recipient.

 

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