Revisiting the caregiver stress process: Does family caregiving really lead to worse mental health outcomes?

TitleRevisiting the caregiver stress process: Does family caregiving really lead to worse mental health outcomes?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsHan, SHwang
JournalAdvances in Life Course Research
ISSN Number1879-6974
KeywordsAdult children, Caregivers, Dementia, Health Care, Mental Health, Outcome Assessment

While the act of caregiving is often characterized as a stressful experience detrimental to mental health, recent studies are challenging this view by reporting robust health and well-being benefits linked to family caregiving. The current study attempted to provide an explanation of this apparent paradox by focusing on the role played by family health problems in the association between being a caregiver and mental health. Framed within the life course perspective and focusing on caregiving provided to aging mothers, the current study aimed 1) to demonstrate how the linkage between caregiving and depression reported in earlier studies may be misleading and 2) to further investigate whether caregiving to an aging mother may lead to any mental health benefits. Using longitudinal data drawn from the nationally representative US Health and Retirement Study, I follow adult children 50 and older who had a living mother during the observation period (N = 4812; 18,442 person-wave observations). A series of within-between random effects models were estimated to explicate how health conditions of aging mothers (i.e., disability and dementia) and caregiving transitions of adult children were associated with changes in depressive symptoms of adult children. Findings demonstrated that caregiving transitions were unrelated to depressive symptoms among adult children once the model controlled for the confounding effects of having their mother experience disability and dementia. Further, caregiving behavior was found to buffer the direct detrimental effect of maternal disability on adult children's depressive symptoms. This study adds to the growing body of research that cautions against characterizing caregiving as a chronic stressor detrimental to mental health and further echoes earlier calls for a more balanced portrayal of caregiving in policy reports and research literature.

Citation Key13681
PubMed ID38054877
Grant ListP30 AG066614 / AG / NIA NIH HHS / United States