- Grounded in the life course perspective, this study examined
stress among long-distance caregivers, asking whether stress levels vary
by family relation to the care recipient or by geographic distance. A
growing older adult population forecasts a corresponding need for
caregivers. Although family members are the primary source of care for
older adults, our population has seen high rates of mobility among both
adult parents and their children, increasing the geographic distance
between them. Given that the number of children per family has
decreased, geographically distant children may be the only available
family members to help frail, aging parents. Older adults without children
available may have to rely on other family members, some of whom also
live at a distance, in times of need.
Caregivers who live at greater distances may have more
difficulties providing care to their loved ones than those who live closer,
and they may face greater stress than caregivers who live nearby.
Further, because the child-parent relationship reflects the strongest kin
obligation, child caregivers may have a higher likelihood of caregiver
stress than nonchild caregivers. Research questions were addressed
using data from a nationally representative survey of long-distance
caregivers conducted in the Fall of 1996 by the National Council on
Aging (NCOA) in collaboration with Matthew Greenwald and Associates
of Washington, DC.
Child caregivers (n=98), those whose care recipients are parents
or step parents, were compared to nonchild caregivers (n=74), those
whose care recipients are caring for grandparents, siblings, other
relatives, or friends. Caregivers in both groups provided comparable
care, such as helping with decision making, advice and information,
making needed arrangements, and providing emotional support.
Hierarchical multiple regression was used to assess the amount of
variance explained by relation type and geographic distance after
controlling for caregiver income, caregiving intensity, gender, care
duration, and care recipient health.
Bivariate relations suggested that caregivers with higher income
give significantly less intense care, and that the passage of time may
lessen stress for caregivers. Results of the multivariate analysis showed
that relation to care recipient was a significant predictor of caregiver
stress, with adult children showing higher levels of stress. Caregiver
stress, however, was not greater for caregivers who lived farther away
from care receivers. Using nationally representative data, the study
documented the stress of long-distance caregivers, particularly adult children, thus suggesting the need for additional research and possibly
programs to alleviate that stress.