As a journalist, I am inundated with dozens of reports on new medical studies weekly. The number has only increased during the coronavirus pandemic. One caught my eye this week, because I saw outlets running cheery headlines that set off my BS detector.
One headline example: “Long thought to be damagingly stressful, family caregiving does no harm”
That is quite a proclamation! It is certainly news to the thousands of us who have been family caregivers and experienced mental, emotional, and physical side effects. As with most such overly optimistic headlines, I go to the originating source. In this case, it’s a Johns Hopkins study, Transition to Family Caregiving, which found that “caregivers didn’t have significantly greater inflammation over a nine-year period.”
Certainly this is a significant finding, and it is good news that family caregiving may not have long-term physical effects. My concern is the way such studies are promoted across social media, which could cause family caregivers who are struggling to doubt their own experiences.
Let me be clear that caregivers should always listen to their own body, no matter what a study proclaims. Family caregivers may experience a range of emotional, mental and physical side effects attributed to caregiving. This can include anxiety, anger, depression, burnout, insomnia and appetite issues, just to name several common ailments. While these periods of stress may not trigger a response that show up in an inflammation study, it doesn’t mean that your symptoms are not real.
Bottom line, studies are useful but you know your own body better than any researcher. Don’t let rosy headlines discourage you from seeking help if you are feeling overwhelmed by the duties of family caregiving.
That being said, for those who are anxious about the long-lasting impact of family caregiving on their health, this study may help ease worries. I have found that being a family caregiver can strengthen one’s resiliency, which is a positive in these challenging times.