To reach their conclusion, the team took a fresh look at 30 studies stretching from 1987 to 2016 that examined specific molecular biomarkers in the blood that indicate inflammation and immune deficiencies.
The studies included data from 1,848 caregivers and 3,640 non-caregivers.
What they found was surprising: The frequency of physical ailments previously associated with caregiving were barely statistically relevant.
The team maintains individual studies that point to an increase in those biomarkers based their conclusions on weak statistical correlations because of low sample sizes or high bias ratings.
“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, director of the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins. “We’re challenging that narrative as being too exaggerated.”
While caregiving did seem to boost those biomarkers by a modest 0.164 standard deviation units, Roth said, “it’s a whisper of an effect, not nearly as large as what people have been led to believe.”
In fact, the Johns Hopkins team hopes the study will ease concerns of caregivers that their own bodies will be compromised by supporting a family member.
“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 said.