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When giving a helping hand is good for you, too


Over the weekend, I read Katy Butler’s devastating essay “What Broke My Father’s Heart.” The piece, which appeared last week in the New York Times Magazine, follows the author’s mother as she's debilitated, physically and emotionally, by the burden of caring for a husband with dementia. (The heart referred to in the title is sustained by a pacemaker, while the mind and body around it crumble into old age.)

The long-term care of sick or disabled loved ones has been shown time and again to threaten the caregiver’s physical and emotional health - a mounting concern given the growing number of the "oldest old." But a study released today reached a slightly subtler conclusion. Reportedly, certain types of care are healthier than others for the helper:

[Psychologists at the University of Buffalo] learned that despite the burdensome nature of their role, caregivers experience more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions when they engage in "active care" like feeding, bathing, toileting and otherwise physically caring for the spouse.

The study found that passive care, on the other hand, which requires the spouse to simply be nearby in case anything should go wrong, provokes negative emotions in the caretaker, and leads to fewer positive emotions.

The study was based on 73 mostly elderly subjects who were providing full-time home care to ailing spouses. The benefits of active caring were exaggerated in subjects who shared especially strong bonds with their partners.

Makes sense to me.

Photo by hapal

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