FYI Daily

Personality Check: Are You a Caregiver at Risk?

Last updated: Feb 14, 2012

tragedy and comedy

Lots of things influence how stressful caregiving is for a given individual, like the state of your loved one's health, how long the caregiving journey has gone on, and how much help you have. Now add your personality to the list, according to a new study in Psychology and Aging.

  • Are you a negative, anxious person?
  • Are you energetic and outgoing?
  • Are you curious?
  • Are you friendly and compassionate?
  • Are you efficient and organized?

Personality accounted for about a quarter of the differences in caregivers' mental health and about 10 percent of the differences in their physical health, lead author Corinna Loeckenhoff, assistant professor of human development in Cornell University's College of Human Ecology said in Medical Xpress. More than 500 caregivers of older adults were involved in the study.

Being extraverted (being energetic and outgoing) was positively associated with mental and physical health; showing neuroticism (being negative and anxious) was negatively associated with mental and physical health.

Personality traits strongly influence resilience -- the ability to successfully weather challenges. "To understand how people deal with a challenge, it's not sufficient to focus on the sources of stress and strain. It's also critical to examine the resources that people can draw on," Loeckenhoff says.

Personality stays fairly constant over time. But two other kinds of traits, which are more changeable, also had a big role: Self-efficacy (feeling confident in one's abilities) was one of the most important influences. This confidence had an even bigger impact on how caregivers were affected mentally and physically than did the degree of caregiver strain (feeling overloaded and worried).

Your sense of self-efficacy -- that is, confidence -- can change as a result of verbal instruction, personal experience, and observing role models, Loeckenhoff adds. And that means that even though your individual make-up may make caregiving harder for you, if you know this, you can tap into resources that help you work with it.

Image by Flickr user jerebu, used under a Creative Commons license.