Critter Corner: Study Shows That People Who Care for Others Live Longer

Hayek 1Dear Hayek,

A friend told me that caregiving helps you live longer. If that’s the case, I will hopefully live a very long time. I raised five children, care for my grandchildren several times a week, and I am a caregiver for my husband with Parkinson’s. Can you provide any insight on this subject?  Thanks for your help!

Caryn Formannie

Dear Caryn,

Caregiving isn’t just a commendable thing to do — it may also extend your life! A recent study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior found that people who occasionally watched and cared for others lived longer than people who didn’t.

The research was conducted using data for more than 500 people, including parents, grandparents, and those without children or loved ones to care for. The subjects were between ages 70 and 103.

Results from the Study

The people in the study were followed for nearly 20 years. The researchers found that:

  • Grandparents who watched their grandchildren, and older adults who helped their adult children, were more likely to live 10 years after their first interview at the start of the study.
  • Among the people who did not provide this type of care, half of the group died five years after the start of the study.
  • Even outside the family, providing care had a longevity benefit. Among older adults who provided care for someone in their social network, about half lived for seven years after the initial interview. The people who didn’t only lived an average of four years after the initial interview.
  • This pattern suggests that “there is a link not only between helping and beneficial health effects, but also between helping and mortality,” the researchers write in the study.
  • The study can’t confirm that caring for someone definitely increases lifespan, but evidence has long suggested that having a social circle can improve a person’s outcome.
  • The researchers believe the positive emotions experienced from helping others may combat the negative effects of certain negative emotions such as stress and depression.
  • The study also notes that full-time caregiving may cause more stress and lack of resources for seniors, so striking a balance is always important. But the bottom line remains: helping others is likely worthwhile for health and longer living.

Other Studies Have Similar Results

Several studies have looked at the link between grandparents who care for grandchildren and longevity. Some studies have shown caregiving can improve a grandparent’s cognitive functioning and reduce the risk for depression.

More research will be needed to understand the full mechanisms that underlying the health benefits of helping others.

Hope this helps and you live a long happy life!

Hayek

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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