Considerable research and public discourse on family caregiving portrays it as a stressful and burdensome experience with serious negative health consequences. A landmark study by Schulz and Beach that reported higher mortality rates for strained spouse caregivers has been widely cited as evidence for the physical health risks of caregiving and is often a centerpiece of advocacy for improved caregiver services. However, 5 subsequent population-based studies have found reduced mortality and extended longevity for caregivers as a whole compared with noncaregiving controls. Most caregivers also report benefits from caregiving, and many report little or no caregiving-related strain. Policy reports, media portrayals, and many research reports commonly present an overly dire picture of the health risks associated with caregiving and largely ignore alternative positive findings. As the pool of traditional family caregivers declines in the coming years, a more balanced and updated portrayal of the health effects of caregiving is needed to encourage more persons to take on caregiving roles, and to better target evidence-based services to the subgroup of caregivers who are highly strained or otherwise at risk. Recommendations are discussed for research that will better integrate and clarify both the negative and potential positive health effects of informal caregiving.
Keywords: Caregivers; Caregiving; Mortality; Population-based studies.
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