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Psychiatr Serv. 2010 Jun;61(6):605-11. doi: 10.1176/

Subjective burden and personal gains among older parents of adults with serious mental illness.

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  • 1Center for Aging Research, Dartmouth Medical School, 46 Centerra Parkway, Suite 200, Lebanon, NH 03766, USA.



Whereas many studies have examined the long-term toll of coping with an adult child's serious mental illness, relatively few have examined both the subjective burden and personal gains associated with this parenting role. This study investigated the stressors and resources related to burden and gains among older parents of adults with serious mental illness.


The study was a secondary analysis of data collected in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Regression analysis of telephone and mailed responses of 111 parents of adults with serious mental illness was used to examine the stressors and resources associated with parental burden and gains.


Stressors that were positively associated with subjective burden included the amount of care provided to a child with serious mental illness; parents and children living in the same household was also positively associated, although it was not statistically significant (p=.07). Parents who received more assistance from an adult child with serious mental illness and those who were support group members reported less subjective burden and more gains. A higher number of confidants were also positively associated with gains. Parents who provided more assistance with activities of daily living to their adult child reported higher levels of gains.


Findings suggest that recovery-oriented approaches to supporting families in later stages of life may involve creating opportunities for adults with serious mental illness to play positive roles in the lives of aging parents and in helping older parents recognize ways in which successfully coping with caregiving challenges may lead to personal gains.

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