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Monday, July 6, 2009

Surprise! Caregiving Benefits Caregiver

FROM RABBI RICHARD ADDRESS, DIRECTOR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF JEWISH FAMILY CONCERNS AT THE UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM: It is hard to go a day without reading of some new study that looks at longevity. It is equally as hard to watch TV or surf the Web without finding some new “miracle” supplement or cream that guarantees longer life. We are so afraid of aging that we will voluntarily inject poison into our heads to see if we can fight off what is inevitable. Oh well!
We get a more promising view in a recent MSNBC article. The article reports on a new study out of the University of Michigan that may give comfort and relief to millions. Social psychologist Stephanie Brown studied spousal caregiving among elderly couples over a seven-year period and found some surprising results. According to Brown, caring for someone who is ill or elderly may actually be beneficial to the caregiver.
As the article notes:

Brown and her colleagues found that if you accounted for the negative impact of stressing over a loved one’s illness, that caregiving actually led to longer life. During the course of the study, people who spent at least 14 hours a week caring for a sick spouse were almost 30 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who spent no time helping, according to the research recently published in Psychological Science.
The article also highlights similar findings from a study in the journal Stroke:
A full 90 percent of those interviewed reported that their caregiving enabled them to appreciate life more. Many also reported that it helped them develop a more positive attitude toward life.
But why?
Well, it seems that the act of caring for a loved one activates the release of higher levels of a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone has long been linked with reduced stress levels and our desire to connect with others.
While there is NO secret to living longer, there seems to be certain paths that can enhance our lives and provide a sense of meaning and purpose—and, in that sense, lengthen our days. It is the old cliche that our parents spoke about: We need a reason to get up in the morning. Without that reason, we wither and die.