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Divorce, remarriage affect beliefs about who should care for aging relatives

October 20, 2011
by root
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Aging baby boomers now have something else to consider upon retirement: Who from their families will step up to care for them as they grow older?

As more families are affected by divorce and remarriage, the role of adult children in caring for aging parents is becoming blurred, with the quality of family relationships trumping genetic ties, argues a researcher from the University of Missouri.

Lawrence Ganong, a professor and co-chair at the university’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, found that relationship quality, a history of mutual help and resource availability influence decisions about who cares for parents and stepparents.

“The idea that family obligations are based on genetic ties is not true for most Americans,” Ganong said. “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.”

Ganong and his research team presented study participants with hypothetical caregiving scenarios involving an aging parent or stepparent and a child or stepchild. Participants then responded to questions about their perceptions of who should provide care.

The majority of participants said biological factors are relevant in caregiving decisions, but they do not automatically require 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.”

Ganong recommended that middle-aged adults have honest conversations with parents and stepparents about expectations for caregiving and other types of assistance before needs arise.

Ganong presented the paper, “Who Gets Custody of Grandma After the Divorce? How Marital Transitions Affect Family Caregiving Responsibilities,” in Japan earlier this year. The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging.

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