Parents of adults with mental illness face the challenges of being an aging caregiver

Research Activities, March 2011, No. 367

Parents face a host of challenges when caring for a child with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. As the parents age and face their own age-related problems, the care burdens can become even greater when the child becomes an adult. A recent study looked at the subjective burden and personal gains of older parents who cared for adult children with serious mental disorders. It found that various supportive measures in the home can create opportunities for the adult child to help their aging parents, while at the same time helping the parents cope with caregiving challenges.

A total of 111 parents of adults with serious mental illness were selected for the study. They completed a 1-hour telephone survey and a self-administered questionnaire. Personal gains were assessed by asking the parents questions about their inner strengths and what they valued in life. Aspects of subjective burden were also determined, such as time demands, financial strains, lack of privacy, and adverse health consequences due to caregiving. The parents were asked to rate their adult child's overall health and activities of daily living, as well as how much they had to help them. Finally, parents reported on how much help they received from their adult child in such areas as preparing meals, helping with chores, and providing companionship.

The researchers found that the child's contributions to the household had a significant and positive association with the parent's personal gains. Such gains were also improved with the parent's participation in support groups and in the number of confidants they had. The amount of help a parent provided to the child was related to the amount of assistance the child provided to the parent, indicating a positive, reciprocal relationship. Parents who reported better child's health and support group participation had lower levels of subjective burden. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00011).

See "Subjective burden and personal gains among older parents of adults with serious mental illness," by Kelly A. Aschbrenner, Ph.D., Jan S. Greenberg, Ph.D., Susan M. Allen, Ph.D., and Marsha Mailick Seltzer, Ph.D., in the June 2010 Psychiatric Services 64(6), pp. 605-611.

Current as of March 2011
Internet Citation: Parents of adults with mental illness face the challenges of being an aging caregiver: Research Activities, March 2011, No. 367. March 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/mar11/0311RA24.html