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Link between family relationships and care outcomes under the spotlight

A new study in Victoria is exploring how family relationships affect the care outcomes of ageing parents with the aim of improving support for carers.

The Families in Later Life Study tracks sons and daughters caring for ageing parents in the community over a one-year period, focusing on the quality of the relationship between the parent and their adult children and the impact on the wellbeing of both parties.

Research leader Associate Professor Gery Karantzas, from Deakin’s School of Psychology, said the study will investigate the factors that promote or hinder positive family relationships during this time.

He said relationship strains could exacerbate negative outcomes for families including increased risk of depression, anxiety and stress.

However, in contrast, family relationships reflecting love and support appeared to decrease these physical and mental health issues.

“It’s as if good family relationships inoculate ageing parents and their sons and daughters from all kinds of physical and emotional problems,” he said.

Associate Professor Karantzas said the study was unique because it tracked, via surveys and in-home visits, the relationship and wellbeing of both the older parent and their sons and daughters.

“Most aged care studies track either the carer or the care recipient, but not both. And yet, it’s the interaction between the adult child and older parent that is critical in understanding how care is provided, how it’s received, and how parents and children influence one another’s wellbeing.”

He said preliminary findings from the study showed families suffering relationship strains demonstrated poorer care of older parents.

“This is especially the case when the carer is more distressed,” he said.

“The idea that families pull together to help out mum and dad may not represent the reality of ageing families.

“For some, the stress and strains of caring for an older parent merely widen the cracks that already exist.”

Associate Professor Karantzas said the study’s findings would inform ways to support and strengthen family bonds.

“It will also assist the future development of services for family caregivers and care recipients to cope with this already difficult stage of life,” he said.

Associate Professor Karantzas and his team are currently looking for families from the Melbourne and Geelong regions to take part in the Families in Later Life Study. Click here for more information.

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