A few years ago, I got my own cardiologist. That’s because like many women, I did such a good job of caring for my husband after his surgery that I began having heart palpitations and panic attacks. So I would agree that caregiving is stressful in the extreme.
But there’s good news, too. Dr. Lisa Fredman, a Boston University epidemiologist, studied elderly women who had cared for ill family members, and she discovered the following health benefits as a result:
- caregivers experienced lower mortality rates
- in measures of walking pace, grip strength and the speed with which they could rise from a chair, the caregivers declined less than non-caregivers over two years
- the caregivers retained better cognitive function
Dr. Fredman and her colleagues theorize that some of the benefits result from the caregivers’ having to move and think more actively than normal for their age group. Exercise of body and brain can keep you young. And we already knew that caregivers can reap psychological, emotional and even spiritual benefits: growing confidence in one’s abilities, feelings of personal satisfaction, and increased family closeness. But this more measurable information is new, and worth celebrating.
My husband and I are now caregiving on both ends of the age scale. We help my elderly mother, who lives a few blocks from us, and today we start babysitting our granddaughter one day a week. The pleasure is ours, of course. We’d do it even if there were no reward, maybe even if it hurt us (and I expect that after crawling around after Ella all day, my back and hips will complain loudly). But it’s pretty cool to know our loving involvement might even help us stay sharp.