Health effects in significant others: Separating family and care-giving effects
Background. Changes in the health of patients may affect the health of so-called "significant others" in 2 distinct ways. First, an individual may provide informal care to the patient and be burdened by the process of care giving. We label this indirect effect of a patient's health on the health of the care giver the "care-giving effect." Second, a person may suffer from health losses because someone in his or her social environment is ill, regardless of his or her care-giving status. The health of the patient then directly affects the health of this significant other, which we label the "family effect." Methods. We investigate the occurrence of the family and care-giving effect in a convenience sample of Dutch care givers (n = 751). The family effect was approximated by the health status of the patient (measured on EuroQol-VAS), and the caregiving effect by the number of the care-giving tasks was provided. It was assumed that care givers' health is positively associated with patients' health, that is, the family effect, and negatively associated with care-giving burden, that is, the care-giving effect. Relationships are studied using multivariate regressions. Results. Our results support the existence of both types of health effects. The analysis shows that the 2 effects are separable and independently associated with the health of care givers. Not accounting for the family effect conflates the care-giving effect. Conclusions. If the goal of health care policy is to optimize health, all important effects should be captured. The scope of economic evaluations should also include health effects in significant others. This study suggests that significant others include both care givers and broader groups of affected individuals, such as family members.