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Caregivers at risk of spoiling their own health, study says


A new study suggests that people who take care of the well being of older, disabled adults by helping them to manage medications and navigate health system may be at a risk of spoiling their own health, Medicine Plus reports.

The study is published in the Feb. 15 online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

According to the analysis, caregivers are at three times more risk to be less productive on their other jobs due to the fatigue and distraction of their caregiving duties.

"Families are really invisible, even though they're commonly attending medical visits or they're involved when someone's in the hospital, managing the transition back home," said study author Jennifer Wolff.

Jennifer is an associate professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

The researchers said that it is the first national study of the effects of caregiving experienced by those who assist older adults with health care.

Carol Levine, director of the New York City-based United Hospital Fund's Families and Health Care Project, explained in a commentary on the same issue that caregivers see themselves as daughters, sons, spouses and friends -- not necessarily as "caregivers".  

"By expecting family members to do all this stuff with relatively little support, we've created a multigenerational set of health problems, and so I think it's extremely concerning," Levine said.

For the study, Wolff and colleagues used data from two national surveys. They estimated that 14.7 million unpaid caregivers in the United States assist 7.7 million older adults.

The study findings showed that nearly half of the older adults had dementia, and more than a third had a severe disability.

The study authors also noted that health care reforms that reward teams of providers for the value of care they provide have largely ignored the role that family caregivers play,

"It's a crisis of the system," Wolff said. "I think that families are often really disadvantaged because they don't have a recognized role in the health system."

Dr. Eric Coleman, a geriatrician at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, said caregivers don't want to be assessed by the health care system; "they want to feel more confident and prepared."

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