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Psychiatr Serv. 1999 Sep;50(9):1214-9.

Siblings of adults with mental illness or mental retardation: current involvement and expectation of future caregiving.

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Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 53705, USA.



The study examined the factors associated with the involvement of siblings in the life of a brother or sister who has mental illness or mental retardation. Involvement was defined as the current provision of instrumental and emotional support as well as the expectation of future caregiving responsibility.


A mailed questionnaire was used to collect data from 61 siblings of adults with serious mental illness and 119 siblings of adults with mental retardation. The sample was drawn from two ongoing longitudinal studies.


The two groups of siblings showed striking differences in their expectations about their responsibility for future caregiving. Almost 60 percent of the siblings of adults with mental retardation expected to assume primary caregiving responsibility in the future, but only one-third of the siblings of adults with mental illness held this expectation. For both groups, competing family responsibilities limited the involvement of siblings, whereas closeness to the family of origin led to greater sibling involvement.


The extent of current and future involvement by siblings of adults with disabilities is a function of the demands and constraints of midlife as well as the degree of closeness with the family of origin. The findings highlight the importance of clinicians' work to support and strengthen family relationships, which loom large in determining the extent to which siblings are involved in the care of a brother or sister with disabilities.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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