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J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2006 Sep;61(5):S248-55.

Parent care and the stress process: findings from panel data.

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Department of Public Administration and Policy, School of Public Affairs, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20016, USA.



The purpose of this study was to test with panel data an extended model of the stress process recognizing the separate effects of a parent's need for care and an adult child's caring activities.


Using data from the 1996, 1998, and 2000 waves of the Health and Retirement Study, we estimated nonlinear mixed models of mental health outcomes. We assessed mental health for separate samples of 3,350 men and 3,659 women by using an 8-item scale of depressive symptoms. We also explored the sensitivity of results to alternative measures and model specifications.


We found that female, but not male, caregivers whose parents needed care exhibited adverse mental health consequences. However, we found that, generally, both male and female non-caregivers whose parents needed care were more likely to report symptoms of depression than were non-caregivers without disabled parents. Additional findings suggest that the stress process is still more complex among married couples.


This study distinguishes the outcomes of parental care needs from those attributable to caregiving activities. Adverse psychological outcomes appear to be dispersed throughout the family. To focus narrowly on active caregivers is to underestimate the social burdens of disability at older ages.

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