Most discussions and studies about caregiving reveal the stress and strain that caregivers face. Caregiving, whether as a family caregiver or in a caregiving job, can certainly be both physically and emotionally straining. However, there are also many positive effects of caregiving. Anecdotally we know this from stories caregivers share with us. Just check out some of our Inspirational Caregiver Award Winners and Caregiver Profiles for examples. Talk to many family caregivers about their experiences and many will tell you about the intangible rewards of getting closer to an aging parent or developing new skills and nurturing new aspects of themselves.
Now, there is also some evidence to back up the positive effects of caregiving. A recent Johns Hopkins study of more than 3,000 family caregivers “suggests that those who assist a chronically ill or disabled family member enjoy an 18 percent survival advantage compared to statistically matched non-caregivers”, contradicting long-standing beliefs about the negative effects of caregiving on health (and conflicting study results on mortality). The study used some unique statistical methods to try to better delve in to this issue, as well as having access to a large, diverse pool of caregivers.
As one of the researchers mentioned, if stressful situations can be avoided or managed effectively caregiving may actually prove beneficial. Clearly, caregivers do a lot to help their “caree”, particularly when a home caregiver’s support can provide more choices and support the person to remain at home if that is his/her preference. Now, we may need to consider reframing the conversation to understand some of the benefits to the caregiver as well. This is not to negate the potential stresses and challenges caregivers face, but to encourage family and professional caregivers while offering help with those challenges.
Here are a few ways caregivers have shared with us that they benefit from caregiving:
- Sense of fulfillment through caregiving, feeling a sense of mission in doing this work/informal caregiving.
- Small, day-to-day rewards: thank you or a smile from the caree, knowing he/she has been able to improve something for the person, having a nice conversation or activity together.
- Getting to know the caree more deeply/in a new way. For family members, this brings a new aspect to the relationship and sometimes may bring somewhat distant relatives closer together. For professional home caregivers, the chance to get to know clients personally and work closely together over time can be quite fulfilling.
- New, improved skills. For many family caregivers, this “job” teaches them advocacy skills and even hands-on, practical skills; they may learn about things like navigating Medicare, preparing for doctor’s appointments, helping manage someone’s finances, etc. Professional home caregivers learn everything from practical skills (lifting, bathing, safety) to how to handle a wide array of situations and think on their feet. They may also be exposed to a wide array of people with a lot of life experience, from whom they may learn a lot. Some home caregivers use these skills to go on to future careers as an R.N., E.M.T. or other related professions.
- What other ways have you benefited from caregiving? Share your comments with us or join our caregiver community on Facebook.
If you are a caregiver, here are some tips for how to benefit from the “bright side of caregiving” while mitigating the stress:
- Get support. As a family caregiver, join a support group or reach out to others in a similar situation. Professional caregivers, seek companies which demonstrate real support for you…from paying for your continuing education to offering help in the field and rewarding you for a job well done. You should be able to go to your team with any concerns and get advice, as well as have the tools you need to do the best job possible.
- Build in the things that help you reduce stress. In other words, schedule time for at least one important activity that helps you relax or keeps you healthy. Keep a journal if that helps you. Get to your caree’s home a bit early to take a deep breath before you start. Figure out what helps you cope with stress and build it in to your schedule, even if it is only a tiny amount of time.
- Focus on the positives. Some days this may be difficult. Many caregivers find humor helps when things are tough. Reflect back on what good things have happened during the week (were you able to get a smile out of your caree, did you have a nice outing, a good result at a doctor’s appointment, etc.?).
- Find out what resources can help you (and do this early). When you begin caring for an elderly relative, get some information on local resources before you have a crisis. There may be help that you would not know exists…the homework is worthwhile. If you are a professional caregiver, value the importance of continuing education, ask your team members for help and confer with other caregivers when you can (how do others handle Mrs. B when she is paranoid or angry due to her dementia, what activities do other caregivers find Mr. D likes most, etc.).