Based on Research by Peter Vitaliano, Ph.D. Psychology Science Minute written by Juanita N. Baker, Ph.D.
Psychology Science Minute brought to you by the School of Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.
Are you a caregiver for a relative who has Alzheimer’s or another disabling disease? You are not alone, informal caregivers are estimated to number 25 – 29 million – one out of every 10 Americans. Caregiving takes extra time and emotional energy in our busy lives.
Psychologist Peter Vitaliano and colleagues were able to look at 23 studies involving 3,072 participants aged 55 – 75 years old. When they matched caregivers to non-givers in 11 health categories, the researchers found a number of significant differences. Caregivers had a 23% higher level of stress hormones and a 15% lower level of antibody responses than non-caregivers. Over time, elevated stress hormones can lead to greater susceptibility to infections as well as high blood pressure and glucose levels, increasing the risk of hypertension and diabetes.
The U.S. National Family Caregiver Support Program encourages states to work with local area agencies on aging and community-based services to offer caregivers information about available services; help in gaining access to services; counseling, support groups and training; and respite care.
If you are a caregiver, take care of yourself so you can best meet the needs of your loved one. Call 211 for ideas about resources. Make sure daily you have some activity you enjoy just for you, and go out weekly. If you are a friend of a caregiver, offer to caregive while they take respite.
Vitaliano, P. P., Scanlan, J. M., & Zhang, J. (2003). Is caregiving hazardous to one’s physical health? A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 129(6), 946-972.