A 2009 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving in the United States, in collaboration with AARP, found that in any given year, 65 million people, 29 percent of the population, are caregivers for a chronically ill, disabled or elderly family member.
The study shows that the typical caregiver is a 49-year-old woman (66 percent of caregivers are women) caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother. She is married and employed.
On average, caregivers spend 20 hours a week providing care. Of those who have provided care for five years or more, 23 percent reported their own health was fair to poor; a 2003 study of elderly people caring for spouses with Alzheimer’s disease, directed by Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, showed that these caregivers had a 63 percent higher death rate than the study’s control group.
Kiecolt-Glaser’s study found four times the amount of Interleukin 6, an immune system protein, in caregivers’ blood as compared with the amounts detected in the study’s control group. According to the researcher and her team, over time, high levels of the protein are associated with an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, viral infections, intestinal, stomach and colon disorders, osteoporosis, periodontal disease, various cancers and autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Alzheimer’s, dementia, nerve damage and mental problems — the incidence of depression is about eight times higher among caregivers — are also linked to IL-6.