Thursday, November 14, 2013

Our very own month (sort of)

My radar has let me down again. 

I just learned that November was designated this year by President Obama as National Family Caregivers Month. This slip-up is embarrassing, given that I am a caregiver to the umpteenth degree. Particularly since last year when my ailing  mother joined my list of charges.

Nevertheless, it is nice to finally have a month of our own. Or is it?

Earlier this month (while still oblivious to its significance) I happened upon a report of a recently published study about caregivers  With all due respect to science and to the esteemed university involved - the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health - this one seems baffling and even dubious.

The study found that what you and I do not only isn't detrimental to our health. It actually extends our lives.

David L. Roth, director of the center, is the first author of the study which was published [here] in the American Journal of Epidemiology ("Family Caregiving and All-Cause Mortality: Findings from a Population-based Propensity-matched Analysis").

He and his colleagues compared data on 3,503 family caregivers to a chronically ill or disabled family member with that of 3,503 non-caregivers.
All of those studied were over age 45 and the two groups were matched based on demographics, health history, health behaviors and other factors.
After six years, “significantly fewer” caregivers had died compared to the non-caregivers, the study found, with caregivers experiencing “an 18 percent reduced rate of death... The researchers did not find any groups of caregivers who failed to see greater longevity, but they acknowledged that their results may not extend to all types of caregivers.
Now here is where the research becomes downright confounding:
"If highly stressful situations can be avoided or managed effectively, caregiving may actually offer some health benefits for both the care recipients and the caregivers, including reduced risk of death for those providing care,” Roth said. [Media Release]
I'm sorry, but how in the world is that even possible? Stress is an integral part of caring for children with profound disabilities. Can you ride a bicycle without pedaling? Eat without swallowing? Well, you get my drift.

To give him credit, Dr. Roth did concede that:
“Taking care of a chronically ill person in your family is often associated with stress, and caregiving has been previously linked to increased mortality rates,” said David Roth. [Media Release]
And, I might add, there was good reason for that.

In fact another article about this same study noted that
caregivers who are feeling strained in their caregiving responsibilities face a number of physical and emotional health risks, including increased rates of depression, anxiety, chronic illness, and even stroke.
And the following qualification by Dr. Roth, quoted there, really clarifies the limitations of the study's findings:
Many caregivers report receiving benefits of enhanced self-esteem, recognition and gratitude from their care recipients. When caregiving is done willingly, at manageable levels, and with individuals who are capable of expressing gratitude, it is reasonable to expect that health benefits might accrue in those situations.
So the bottom line is that this study omitted, or hardly included, caregivers like us.

We parents of children with profound disabilities rarely receive positive feedback and reinforcement either from our communities, our families or our incapable children.

I fear that this study will minimize the challenges that we confront every day rendering it more difficult for us to receive assistance.

It is time for a study to be conducted specifically of caregivers in our category. Then we might feel that November is our month too.

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