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may be associated with poorer health in
Newswise — Older white caregivers (those who provide
regular care or assistance for a child or a
disabled or sick adult) appear to have
poorer health outcomes than black female
caregivers, according to a report in the
October 27 issue of Archives of Internal
Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Although past studies have found that caregivers have
poorer immune status than non-caregivers,
there has not been any consistent evidence
stating that caregiving increases disease
occurrence or death, according to background
information in the article.
“These inconsistent results suggest the need to examine
factors that may influence the association
between caregiving and health decline in
older adults, particularly race, sex and
overall level of physical activity of
caregivers and non-caregivers,” the authors
Since physical activity is associated with lower stress and
depressive symptoms, and protects against
heart disease, death and mobility
disability, including it in studies of
caregiving “may provide a more accurate
description of how caregiving affects
Lisa Fredman, Ph.D., of the Boston University School of
Public Health, and colleagues assessed the
physical activity (including daily routine,
exercise and caregiving activity) and health
of 3,075 healthy adults (ages 70 to 79) from
1997 to 1998.
Of these, 680 (about 22 percent) were caregivers.
Demographic information such as race and sex
were also noted.
Participants were clinically examined or interviewed every
year for eight years and short telephone
interviews were conducted six months between
each annual interview.
“Black women were most likely to be caregivers (28.8
percent) and to spend the most time
caregiving,” the authors write.
“Nineteen percent of black women spent eight or more hours
a week performing caregiving activities,
whereas white men were least likely to be
caregivers (18.2 percent) and less involved
in caregiving activities than other race-sex
Approximately 20 percent of caregivers died and 50.9
percent developed mobility limitations
(difficulty walking one-quarter mile or
climbing 10 steps at two consecutive
semiannual follow-ups), while 22 percent of
non-caregivers died and 48.9 percent
developed mobility limitations.
“Associations differed by race and sex. Mortality [death]
and mobility limitation rates were 1.5 times
higher in white caregivers but not for black
female caregivers vs. non-caregivers,” the
Caregivers who took care of someone for 24 hours or more
per week had higher rates of health decline
when physical activity was taken into
consideration but lower rates of health
decline when physical activity was not
“Given the increasing number of elderly caregivers in the
United States, these results underscore the
potential toll of caregiving on physical
health and the need for services to reduce
caregivers’ stress and maintain their health
and ability to provide optimal care for
their family members,” the authors conclude.