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Parent-Child Relationship - Family Caregiving To Elderly Parents: Patterns And Consequences

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 3Parent-Child Relationship - Parent-adult Child Relations In Historical Context, The Quality Of Parent-adult Child Relations

Family caregiving to elderly parents: patterns and consequences

As the elderly population grows, so will the number of family members involved in their care. It is estimated that in 2001, approximately 2.2 million people provided unpaid help to elderly disabled relatives, and that these individuals provide 80 percent of the care received by the frail elderly. Of these individuals, more than one-third were adult children. Daughters continue to be substantially more likely than sons to be primary caregivers to their parents, although sons' participation in caregiving has increased. In part, daughters' greater caregiving to elderly parents can be explained by the general trend toward a traditional division of family tasks in the United States. However, another contributing factor is that older parents are more likely to be cared for by adult children of the same gender, and gender differences in life expectancy result in a larger number of women than men who receive care.

Reviews of the caregiving literature have shown that caregivers experience increased depression and demoralization, as well as increased psychiatric illness. Although the evidence is less clear, caregivers also appear to be more vulnerable to physical illness. Further, studies of caregiving suggest that these physical and psychological costs of caregiving are greater for women than men, and women who become caregivers are more likely than men to experience a loss of income and retirement benefits as a consequence of their caregiving.

Studies of the effects of caregiving on the quality of the parent-child relationship do not provide an entirely consistent picture. Some studies indicate that declines in parents' health often result in decreased closeness and attachment between them and their adult children; however, other research suggests that caregiving is more likely to have positive than negative consequences on relationship quality.

There are theoretical bases for suggesting that the motivation of adult-child caregivers determines whether caregiving has positive or negative effects on the parent-child relationship. In particular, it has been suggested that adult children who are motivated by attachment, rather than by exchange or obligation, would experience better relationships. Findings of research on the connection between caregiver motivation and the quality of parent-child relations support this argument by revealing that the parent–adult child caregiving relationship is better when daughters are motivated by feelings of affection and closeness.

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