One problem older adults may have are burglars reading obituaries and then burglarizing homes while the families are grieving or even staying outside the home for a short time, such as when they're away at funeral or other services. Another problem older adults may have is how stepfamilies care for their older members, especially when they're not emotionally close to step parents. Do stepfamilies see caring for older relatives as a larger or smaller 'burden' than biologically connected families?
Stepfamilies add to caregiver burden, says a new study. Caregiving is always tough, but it's that much tougher when caregivers have to rely on family ties that are ambiguous, strained or virtually nonexistent, suggests a University of Michigan study, says a new study, "Stepfamilies in Later Life, published online this month in the Journal of Marriage and Family, (pages 1065–1069). The University of Michigan (UM) study is one of the first to explore how divorce and remarriage affect wives who are caregivers. You can check out the abstract of that study.
The issue affects large numbers of Americans. More than 35 million Americans are remarried, and nearly half a million adults over age 65 remarry every year. At the same time, Americans are living longer, with increasing levels of chronic disease. You may wish to see the research project, "Disruptions in family and work life: Implications for support in later life."
Carey Wexler Sherman, a research investigator at the U-M Institute for Social Research, interviewed 61 women who remarried in later life and who were the caregivers of husbands with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. She asked the women, who were 66-years-old on average, about their social support networks, and assessed their well-being and the amount of disagreement they experienced about caregiving decisions with family and stepfamily members.
"I was surprised at how little adult stepchildren were involved in the care of their fathers," Sherman explains in the September 24, 2013 news release, Stepfamilies add to caregiver burden. "Even when the relationships between stepmothers and adult stepchildren were good, there were likely to be problems involving communication about who should be making medical and financial decisions. For caregivers who did not have close ties with adult stepchildren before the onset of health problems with the husband and father, it was even harder."
Adult stepchildren and stepfamily members were more likely to question the caregiver's decisions
From the caregivers' perspective, adult stepchildren and other stepfamily members were much more likely than their own families and friends to offer unwanted advice, interfere or meddle, to question the caregiver's decisions, and to say things that were inconsiderate, angry or critical. They also were more likely to let the caregiver down when she needed help.
Sherman also found that many of the remarried caregivers worked to avoid a sense of isolation and the feeling that they had to handle everything on their own. "Some women turned to counselors, support groups, online websites, as well as their own family and friends, for support and help," Sherman said. "They did what they could to cope with a difficult situation."
Many remarried caregivers worked to avoid a sense of isolation
Still, it was striking how many women reported being virtually alone in their caregiving role, she says in the news release. "They expected and needed assistance from their husband's children and were deeply distressed when it was not forthcoming," she said. "It's important to recognize that a lack of shared family history and norms likely affects the way stepfamily members cope with the demands of taking care of a loved one with dementia."
Sherman explains in the news release that caregivers are likely to experience increased burden and depression as a result. "With so many older Americans in complex family situations, this study signals the need for greater understanding of aging stepfamilies, as well as tailored interventions that address the unique decision-making and care-related support needs of re-partnered older adults," she says.
The Alzheimer's Association supported Sherman's research. Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research is the world's largest academic social science survey and research organization, and a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology and in educating researchers and students from around the world. Check out the ISR website at the University of Michigan.
Is divorce bad for the senior citizen parents?
The elderly are cared for by their adult children regardless of their marital status. In a unique study funded by the UK's Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), researchers found British adult children help their elderly parents according to current need (i.e. health) rather than past behavior. This contrasts with other countries such as the US, where parents with a history of divorce see less of their children and receive less help from them, says a May 11, 2008 news release, "Is divorce bad for the parents?"
So in the UK a parent that is living alone is more likely to receive help from children than parents with partners. Children also give more help as the parent ages. For every extra year of the parent’s age, he/she is 9% more likely to receive help from children not living at the same address. And parents with health problems are 75% more likely than those without health problems to be helped by their children.
Curiously, divorced parents get more help from children than if they are widowed, but both groups receive more help than if they still have a partner.
And it helps to have more children. Parents with more children receive more support; however, step children give step parents less support.
The research was carried out by a team from the Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London. They analyzed data from an annual survey of over five thousand British households (British Household Panel Survey) from 1991 to 2003. They compared this information with a survey of over 3500 people at around retirement age (55-69 years) in 1988, and an Italian family survey.
The researchers led by Dr Karen Glaser found that children now help their elderly parents more than in the past. In 1988, 34% of parents aged 61-69 received regular or frequent help from their children; by 2001/2 this had risen to 43%. Almost two-thirds of older parents (aged 70 or over in 2001/2) received help from their children. Typically help included one or more of the following:
- Lifts in a car (44% of parents)
- Help with the shopping (32%)
- Decorating, gardening or house repairs (25%)
- Providing or cooking meals (17%)
- Dealing with personal affairs (letters, bills) (16%)
- Washing, ironing or cleaning (11%)
“Our research dispels the myth that modern Britain is becoming less caring,” says Dr Karen Glaser in the news release, Is divorce bad for the parents? “While families experience more divorce and separation, many children continue to care for parents according to their needs.”
Comparing the UK with Italy, the researchers found the family oriented Italians care more for elderly parents regardless of need, whereas the pragmatic British gave support depending on the health situation of the elderly.
1.The research project "Disruptions in family and work life: Implications for support in later life" was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It was carried out by the Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London, specifically: Dr Karen Glaser, Professor Janet Askham, Dr Cecilia Tomassini (University of Molise, Italy), Rachel Stuchbury and Professor Anthea Tinker.
2.Methodology. The project is based on secondary analysis of national datasets, in particular the British Household Panel Survey (1991-2003), the British Retirement and Retirement Plans Survey (1988/89), and the Italian 1998 Indagine Multiscopo sulle Famiglie “Famiglia, soggetti sociali e condizione dell’infanzia” (Multipurpose Survey on Family and Childhood Conditions).
3.The Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research which impacts on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2008/09 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. For more information, check out the ESRC site.
4.ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at the ESRC site.
5.The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as ‘Good’.
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