For decades, articles in research journals and the popular press have reported that being a family caregiver takes a toll on a person’s health, boosting levels of inflammation and weakening the function of the immune system. Now, after analyzing 30 papers on the levels of immune and inflammatory molecules in caregivers, Johns Hopkins researchers say the link has been overstated and the association is extremely small.
Caregiver stress explains less than 1 percent of the variability in immune and inflammation biomarkers, they reported. Their meta-analysis was published in The Gerontologist.
“We’re not saying that family caregiving can’t be stressful, but there’s a notion that it’s so stressful that it causes deteriorating health and increased mortality. This can lead to fear of caregiving and a reluctance to care for loved ones in need,” said first author David Roth, MA, PhD, professor of medicine and director of the Center on Aging and Health at The Johns Hopkins University. “We’re challenging that narrative as being too exaggerated.… It’s not that we didn’t find anything, but it’s a whisper of an effect, not nearly as large as what people have been led to believe.”
The team hopes its new look at the existing data helps encourage people to be more open to becoming caregivers.
“Caregiving, if done right, can actually be an extremely beneficial, healthy activity that enhances your life because you’re engaging in pro-social behavior,” Roth says.
This article was adapted from information provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine.