DAYTON, Ohio, July 18, 2017 — As America’s population ages and the number of those with severe health issues increases, a new study has found that family caregivers run the risk of social isolation and depression when they take on the job of caring for a severely ill loved one without help.
The Stanford Center on Longevity and the Stanford University Psychology Department released the study, Age and Emotional Well-Being: The Varied Emotional Experience of Family Caregivers, on July 17. The study found that the emotional well-being of older adults managing the care of severely ill loved ones is markedly lower than average for their age due to the caregiver’s inability to engage in social pursuits.
Stanford researchers collaborated* with Comfort Keepers, a leading provider of in-home care services, and the home care services software company ClearCare, to survey 2,000 adults who had hired a Comfort Keepers caregiver to help an ailing relative. The survey asked respondents about their emotional well-being.
“As a large percentage of our population ages, we need to consider the impact that caregiving will have on those who take on the role of family caregiver,” said Mary Bowman, global executive vice president of Comfort Keepers. “Care giving is one of the most fulfilling aspects of life, but it’s extremely difficult when you don’t have time for yourself. With respite care, senior care and in-home care services, Comfort Keepers offers aid to family caregivers so that they can take care of themselves and their loved ones.”
“A lot of prior research shows that older people generally have a higher emotional well-being than younger people,” said Dr. Tamara Sims, lead researcher at Stanford Center on Longevity. “Surprisingly, among caregivers, we found similar effects –older caregivers felt more positively in their everyday life than younger caregivers. When looking closer, however, older people caring for a relative with a severe illness did not experience that same age-related benefit to well-being –these caregivers looked more like younger adults, emotionally. Only one of several reasons we examined seems to explain this effect: their social lives suffer more than those with a mildly ill relative.”
In addition to Sims, the study research team included Amy Yotopoulos, Director of Mind Division, Stanford Center on Longevity; Sarah Raposo, B.A., Department of Psychology, Stanford University; and Jessica Barnes, M.S.W., Department of Psychology, Stanford University.
Among older adults managing a loved one’s health care, the study discovered that emotional well-being negatively correlates with the severity of the loved one’s illness. Older adults who care for a relative with a mild illness report greater well-being than do younger adults, much like the general population. However, older adults caring for a relative with a severe illness do not experience the typical high levels of emotional well-being compared to other older adults. Therefore, the positive association between age and emotional well-being is present for people whose relative has a mild illness but not for those who have a relative with a severe illness.
“We are experiencing a massive demographic shift, with more older people than younger for the first time in human history,” said Geoffrey Nudd, CEO of ClearCare. “This fact, in combination with how social well-being correlates to rising health care costs, enables solutions to an imminent crisis. These findings provide us with invaluable insight and implications into how the power of home care can improve lives.”
*Study was not funded or directed by Comfort Keepers or ClearCare.