Caring for elderly parents: why daughters pay a heavier toll than sons

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

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.


  Are you a caregiver for an elderly parent?  Get info and support from free webinars and tele-workshops presented by the Family Caregivers Network or sign up to receive their free helpful e-newsletters.


13 thoughts on “Caring for elderly parents: why daughters pay a heavier toll than sons

  1. I can’t stand the woman who is my mother. She is 84 and had a small stroke two years ago. It affected her peripheral vision so she lost her license and I am the driver now. She has always been crazy and cruel and moody and now she is worse. She wants to be with me 24 hours a day. She won’t accept volunteer drivers, only me and she non-stop complains in the car. She is shy and proper around strangers.

    She complains about all the people she hates and have wronged her. Of course I am on that list. My brother lives in Europe and hardly visits. He calls every day to say how are you to her, then hangs up. She thinks he is the greatest. I live with her and she won’t let me close my bedroom door. She has tried breaking the door handle lock so many times it is all scratched up. We fight and we hit each other. She has had bad balance so she has fallen twice when I hit her. It is unfair if I ever went to jail for hitting her. She is so mean to me! There has to be special laws for dealing with evil elderly selfish parents who won’t leave you alone and make fun of you!


    1. I’m sorry to hear of all this drama and misery Carol. But good grief! – You’re hitting your 84-year old frail stroke-addled mother? No wonder she is mean to you. There are NO special laws that allow anybody, anywhere, under any circumstances to hit an elderly person – no matter how annoying they are. You are just one neighbour’s complaint away from being arrested for assault. Please call her physician and book an appointment for a medication review (her meds’ side effects may be affecting her behaviours). Also call your local community center, seniors home, your church or anybody you can think of to start lining up alternative living options and help for yourself and for her.

      Meanwhile, have you thought about buying her a one-way ticket to go live with her wonderful son in Europe?


    2. Wow, I forgot I wrote this post.
      Well, many months later, my mother suffered a big stroke and now has severe dementia. I am her 24 hour caregiver. I shower her, give meds, feed, do laundry, brush her teeth, everything. She eats pureed food and thickened drinks. Her demanding personality has remained but she is usually grateful for the help. She ‘Sundowns’ and doesn’t sleep from 10 pm to 8 am.
      Etc. There is too much to write about it.
      I have been extremely devoted and caring.
      Relatives are shocked I am so good at it.
      I am SO EXHAUSTED.
      Three nursing homes have tried to kill her so she will stay with me.
      My brother is still a moron jerk creep in Europe.
      He thinks it is great.
      What a fine arrangement.
      I may die first but who cares.
      So I guess I am not getting arrested anymore.


  2. Medical alarm systems are crucial for seniors. Even those in good health can benefit from having one. I know first hand the devastating consequences of not having a medical alert for the elderly. My best friend’s mom was a pretty energetic woman in her seventies, and saw no need to have a medical alert system. Unfortunately at that age, it doesn’t take much to turn a minor situation into a major one.

    During her morning routine she tripped over a coffee table in her home and hit her head on it during the fall down. I can’t imagine how helpless she must have felt; unable to get up after a blow to the head. She laid there for an hour until her daughter stopped by for what she thought would be a casual breakfast. Sadly, too much time had passed with her head injury and she died in the hospital a few days later.

    It breaks my heart to think that if she only had a medical alarm pendant to use, perhaps paramedics could have gotten her the help she needed, when timing is so crucial. My friend wishes to this day there was something she could have done to empower her mother. Medical alerts for the elderly can truly be a life-saver.


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  4. I too have watched my two brothers sit back and wait to be asked to look in on my elderly mother or to do specific tasks for her, instead of just doing what needs to be done. There is useful information here. I’m sending it to them.


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  6. This article really hits home for me. My three brothers live in the same small midwest town we all grew up in, a few blocks from my 72 year old moms house. She lives alone and while she is mostly pretty independant, she now has quite a few health issues including a HEART CONDITION so she needs some help doing certain things. But those things all seem to be MY JOB as far as my brothers are concerned even though I live almost two hours drive from them. They will help out if I call them and ask them very specificly (like this week mom’s a/c is making disturbing noises and must be fixed right away) but they will never just pick up the phone to call her or drop in on their way home from work to check if she needs anything from the store etc. etc.

    Until I read this article, I thought it was only my ingrate brothers who were neglecting their own mother like this but it sounds like they are not the only one!!! What is wrong with grown sons out there who wont go out of their way to care for their own mothers?

    Ladies if you are reading this and are married to a guy who sounds like my brothers & neglecting the relationship with their own mothers because they think somebody else will step in to pick up the slack (most likely YOU the daughter in law!!!!!!!!!!) give them a good swift kick in the ass. Its not fair that its the daughters of the world who are the only ones to feel some sense of respect for our parents.


    1. I agree completely with this article. My mother-in-law has COPD and although her health isn’t the greatest she is still a functioning 67 yr old who has become so dependent on me to do everything such as cooking every night and sitting with her all day with my 2 young children (7 and 9).

      She does have the help of her one sister who spends the night with her every night, but the sister, who is 8 years older by the way, depends on me also to be there almost everyday so she can do the things she wants to do. I am more then happy to help out but I’m feeling extremely stressed out for myself and for my children who have to dread going over there because all there is to do is sit around the house since there are no kids to play with in the area. The summer is supposed to be for them to have fun not sit around.

      I have tried talking to my mother-in-law and her sister both about getting some outside help because it is way too much for 2 people to do, but the sister states only family will be helping and my mother-in-law states she will get better. Well it’s been about 5 months and nothing has gotten better. My husband (her oldest son) and her other son work all day until late, so neither one of them can be much help so the pressure is constantly on me.

      I shouldn’t have to feel guilty abut wanting to do things for myself and my family, but that is exactly what my mother-in-law and her sister do. It’s sad because my mother-in-law and I used to have such a close relationship (my own mother passed away from cancer 9 yrs ago).

      The extremely controlling sister to my mother-in-law has made life a living hell for me and will not accept any outside help which makes it hard since my mother-in-law is of sound mind and besides the COPD, is actually able to do things on her own, she just doesn’t want to be alone. Any suggestions from others who may be going through the same thing?


      1. I have recently been told by my 87 year old mother that I am a liar and make up stories and just talk for no reason. Since my Dad’s death two years ago, I have been taking my mother to the store, dr.s , bank etc twice a week. She now tells me that she thinks I am weird and criticizes more and more with each visit. She recently accused me of regifting birthday presents to my sister and told me that I was jealous of her and my sisters relationship and that I think she likes Karen better. Where does all this hate come from?


        1. Barbara, my mother behaves in the same way towards my sister, who lives near her and has sacrificed for years to help her out with virtually EVERYTHING. Mum has vascular dementia and this kind of behaviour (paranoia, suspicion) is unfortunately common. Although this is crazy-hurtful to hear, try not to take it personally. Unless your mother has actually been this nasty all her life, this could well be her brain-damaged neurons firing that are causing these accusations. Read the book Still Alice if you have not already read it.


          1. Thank you so much for your response. My Mother has always been very negative and controlling but her verbal attack on me the other day was unbelievable. She went into a tyrant about how I lie and make up things etc and could not substantiate any of these accusations. She actually said I was lying about my sister giving me a nightgown from Wal mart and said….Karen never shops at Walmartthere you go lying again. It was such a bizarre day that I am still reeling from the intensity of the hate and dislike that came out of her. TekT


            1. Yikes. You’re describing my mother, too. Always very demanding and critical – but now with her dementia, there is no longer any kind of “filter” on anything she says to people around her. I found this online audio workshop very helpful: “Dealing with the Nasties” by Dr. Allison Reeves. Family members in this workshop with “nasty” parents describe feeling: like they are ‘tired of walking on eggshells’, confused about what’s coming up next, sad, distressed, helpless, feeling not good enough, exhausted, resentful, angry, maligned, frustrated, powerless and have a sense of real despair. Sound familiar?

              Please set aside some time (about 45 minutes) and listen to this TODAY!


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