Does caring for others help you live longer? Research seems to say so.
A study by Edith Cowan University in Western Australia has found that elderly people who care for others live longer than those who don’t.
The research included interviewing a group of older adults, some who provided occasional care for grandchildren or other members of the community, and others who did not.
The research team, led by Dr David Coall, studied 516 elderly Germans who were participating in a long-term health study.
Of that group, only 80 of them said they regularly cared for their grandchildren.
During the process, researchers found that caregiving grandparents lived significantly longer than non-caregiving grandparents – up to five years longer.
It was the first of its kind to ever show such a link.
Dr Coall’s research even went on to suggest that caring for grandchildren increases life expectancy significantly more than being healthy, active and independent.
Caregiving overall appeared to have more impact on life expectancy than being diagnosed with chronic or severe illnesses later in life.
The Emotions Behind Caring
During the interview process, there was a common theme between all the older adults who helped care for their grandparents – the “happiness, satisfaction and pride” they felt in caring for their family.
But this is not just limited to caring for grandchildren, the research also took into account older adults who did housework or fixed things for their adult children, as well as older adults who supported other people in their community.
Much like the grandparents, they too had longer lifespans.
However, there was a stark difference if grandparents were the primary caregivers to their grandchildren. This group appeared to have significant decline in life expectancy.
There is no strict rule or time limit on how much an older adult should spend caring for someone else. It’s up to every individual to decide how much they are capable and willing to do.
As long as the intensity of help they provide doesn’t cause them stress or difficulty, then there is no reason why it should not benefit their health.
“This pattern suggests that there is a link not only between helping and beneficial health effects, but also between helping and mortality, and specifically between grandparental caregiving and mortality,” the study concludes.
“There is quite a bit of research now that suggests this helping behaviour and the feelings of happiness can act as a stress buffer,” Dr Coall explained.
Helping your adult children and looking after grandchildren are some of the few life tasks where you’re doing something and you expect nothing in return – and the joy and satisfaction that brings may be the key to living longer.