Friday, December 26, 2008

Caring For Ailing Spouse May Prolong Your Life

(SPM Wire) To give is better than to receive, a recent University of Michigan Psychological Science study has revealed, as older people who cared for an ailing spouse for at least 14 hours a week lived longer than others in the study who did not.

"These findings suggest that caregivers may actually benefit from providing care under some circumstances," said U-M researcher Stephanie Brown, lead author of the study report. "Previous studies have documented negative health effects of caregiving. But the current results show that it is time to disentangle the presumed stress of providing help from the stress of witnessing a loved one suffer."

Brown and colleagues analyzed seven years of data in this study. Taking into consideration a nationally representative sample of 1,688 American couples, age 70 and older, the analysis limited the focus to only couples that lived on their own.

Earlier work by Brown showed that providing social support to loved ones, friends and neighbors, benefited the giver in terms of mortality rates, and helped with the coping process following spousal loss.

These new findings in unison with her earlier work refresh the case for altruism in marriage. Indeed, in sickness or in health, it is crucial to stand together.

"We don't know yet exactly how caregiving motivation and behavior might influence health," says Brown, "but it could be that helping another person - especially someone you love - relieves some of the harmful stress effects of seeing that person suffer."

Even though a great majority of people - roughly 81 percent - said they received no help at all from their spouse in the study, the researchers theorize that deeply-engrained evolutionary factors favor altruism when individuals rely on one another. This may be why those who spent the most time caring for their spouse lived longer than others in the study.

Brown will continue to study altruism and caregiving through 2009 with the support of the National Science Foundation, trying to understand more closely the rewards of giving and of selflessness in matrimony.


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