At the Canadian Stroke Congress in Quebec City recently, researchers presented a review of 42 published studies that had looked at the effects of caregiving on adult children who take care of parents who have survived a stroke. More than half of the studies looked at daughters who served as caregivers.
Although this review focused on the care of parents who were stroke survivors, no woman I know with ailing parents of any diagnosis would be surprised at the review’s findings: that adult daughters suffer more than adult sons from poor relationships with aging parents who need their care. Review author Marina Bastawrous of the University of Toronto explained:
“Adult daughters place greater emphasis on their relationships with their parents, and when those relationships go awry, it takes a worse toll on the adult daughters than the adult sons. Overall, the studies suggest that daughters suffer more than sons when they don’t get along with their ailing and elderly parents. The relationships rupture when there is less cooperation, less communication and more conflict. “
The review presented in Quebec City includes an AARP study that found over 40% of daughters interviewed describe their caregiving work as “high-stress” compared to less than half that number for sons. It seems that sons – in contrast to daughters – may not see caring for their parents as their primary concern.
And according to these studies, men who become caregivers for parents hold on to their jobs longer than women, who are more likely to quit work to take care of their ailing parents.
“Often the sons get off scot-free, and the daughters are resentful about how little their brothers are doing.”
Caring for a parent who has experienced a stroke or other life-altering medical condition results in a dramatic shift from the usual parent-child relationship. And it can work both ways. Study authors explained that taking care of elderly parents can bring out both family strengths and family weaknesses.
Researchers found that close and secure relationships with parents predicted better mental health and greater satisfaction in adult child caregivers.
“But strained relationships before or following an parent’s illness increases depression in daughters. If the relationship between a parent and adult daughter is already strained, an ailing parent can make things even worse.”
Study co-author Dr. Jill Cameron says adult children providing care for their parents, particularly after a stroke, need help and they need it now.
”We can’t afford to leave them behind. These unpaid caregivers need more support. They aren’t trained, but their role is essential. We need to make better use of financial resources to enhance the support provided to this growing population of caregivers.”
She notes that adult children caregivers need to balance the challenges of work life, family life, and the added responsibility of taking on the care of an ailing parent. Here’s what Dr. Cameron envisions as part of this plan:
- create work initiatives like caregiving leave to support family members caring for parents who are stroke survivors or chronically ill.
- acknowledge that family members perform many caregiving duties but receive little if any training; hospitals must train family members for their caregiving role.
- ensure that a parent’s care plans incorporate the unique circumstances of the family
- recognize family caregivers as members of the care team.
Every 10 minutes in Canada, another person suffers a debilitating stroke. For more information, contact the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
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