Caregiving may be Hazardous to Your Health

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Taking care of a friend or loved one with dementia takes its toll, report researchers who analyzed results from 23 studies conducted over the past 38 years.

Informal caregivers have been around since time began, but they are becoming even more important as the population ages. According to the Census Bureau, the portion of the population over age 65 will increase from 12 percent to 17 percent over the next 20 years. The prevalence of Alzheimer's disease is expected to rise accordingly, from 2.7 percent of the over-65 population to 11.2 percent. That means more and more people will be caring for friends and relatives with cognitive problems.

This study examined the impact of caregiving on 11 health categories, comparing about 1,600 people who were providing care to a loved one with about 1,500 similarly aged people who were not providing care. Results showed caregivers had 23-percent higher levels of stress hormones, 15-percent lower levels of antibodies, and more reported health problems. Researchers note higher stress hormones are putting these people at higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and other conditions. Lower antibody levels increase their risk of contracting influenza and other infectious diseases.

The authors suggest the development of programs aimed at assessing the health needs of caregivers and providing assistance when necessary. They write, "By helping caregivers to maintain their health, such interventions should also help care recipients and society."

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SOURCE: Psychological Bulletin, 2003;129:946-972