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Stepchildren May Step Up to Help Elderly Stepparents

Quality of relationships can sometimes trump blood ties when it comes to caregiving, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 2, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- The quality of relationships is more important than genetic ties in determining who will look after elderly relatives in families affected by divorce and remarriage, according to a new study.

Traditionally, adult children have assumed the responsibility of caring for aging parents, but that customary caregiving role has become blurred in the United States with the increasing number of families that are reshaped by divorce and remarriage.

University of Missouri researchers found that relationship quality, a history of mutual help and the availability of resources influence decisions about who cares for aging parents and stepparents.

"The idea that family obligations are based on genetic ties is not true for most Americans," Lawrence Ganong, a professor and co-chair in the human development and family studies department, said in a university news release.

"How close family members are to each other, how much they have been helped by them in the past, and what hardships caregiving might place on family members are important factors when people consider caring for older kin," he explained.

In the study, participants were given hypothetical caregiving scenarios involving an aging parent or stepparent and a child or stepchild and asked to decide who should provide care.

Most of the participants said genetic ties play a role in caregiving decisions but do not automatically oblige adult children to help older relatives.

"Based on what happens before, during and after marital transitions, family members may change what they think their responsibilities are regarding helping and providing care to kin," Ganong said.

"As a society that relies on families to provide much of the care for older adults, we need to better understand the effects of changes in families due to divorce and remarriage," he noted.

The study was presented earlier this year at the International Family Nursing Conference in Japan. Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The National Family Caregivers Association has more about family caregiving.

SOURCE: University of Missouri, news release, October 2011
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