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Caring for Aging Parents Can Improve Mental Health


A new study highlights the need for quality home care programs and a better system of support for caregivers.

A recent study shows a daughter’s close relationship with her aging parents can bolster her self-esteem, leading to a reduced risk of depression and better mental health.

Parents remain a source of emotional comfort and security for children throughout their lives. This finding is backed up by studies that show most adult children have good relationships with their aging parents and that the quality of intergenerational relationships improves with age.

But when parents become ill, can responsibilities for caregiving take a toll on the quality of relationships? To answer this question, researchers at the University of Wisconsin compared three groups. One group of daughters cared for parents with physical and cognitive impairments. Another group cared for parents with physical impairments only, and a third group of daughters had parents who were healthy and did not need care.

The study consisted of 196 daughters – 70 cared for parents with both physical and cognitive impairments, 69 cared for parents with physical impairments only, and 57 who did not give care to their parents.

The parents in the study were mothers with an average age of 82 years. The majority of daughters were married with children. They had an average age of 56 years.

The study appeared in the September 2004 issue of the journal, Research on Aging.

The results revealed the quality of the daughter-parent relationship deteriorated for parents with cognitive impairments over the 18-month study period. Interestingly, however, no difference was found for daughters whose parents had only physical impairments.

Earlier studies have shown demands on dementia caregivers are greater than those on non-dementia caregivers. As a result, researchers analyzed for differences, but found the amount of care, and functional limitations of parents did not change the results.

Why the difference in results, then? According to researchers Lydia Wailing Li and Marsha Mailick Seltzer, the negative effects were related to the diminished ability of parents with cognitive impairments to provide emotional comfort and security for adult daughters. In other words, when a daughter’s emotional needs are not satisfied, her self-esteem suffers, leading to an increase risk of depression.