Senior children and very old parents are not so unusual anymore. “And virtually nothing is known about the relationships of very old adults and their ‘old’ children,” said Kathrin Boerner, associate professor of Gerontology at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.
Boerner recently received a $419,855 grant from the National Institute on Aging to study the relationships of parents older than 95 with a child older than 65. Her work will examine the relationships of 120 such parent-child pairs.
“Our primary objective is to explore the nature and consequences of the very old parent-child relationship and to offer insight into characteristics that may be associated with greater risk for poor well-being and care-related outcomes,” said Boerner.
“Our central hypothesis is that the very old parent-child relationship is characterized by both rewards and challenges but that challenges dominate,” she said. “That takes into consideration the age-related health limitations of both the very old and the ‘old’ child, as well as the compromised freedom and ability to pursue other goals that come with a child’s caregiving involvement at that age.”
Boerner’s study will examine the emotional support as well as practical help senior children provide to their parents. It will also research the kinds of support the very old parent can still offer his or her child. A May 2018 Boston Globe article took an interesting look at the enduring characteristics of those parent-child relationships, utilizing Boerner’s expertise on the subject. Some people participating in her study also contributed to the article.
Identification of characteristics that may be associated with greater risks to well-being and care outcomes will contribute “a rich array of cues for our long-term goal of intervention development, allowing us to identify the unique challenges” facing old children and their parents, Boerner said.
The two-year study is expected to begin parent-child interviews in the fall, focused on seniors living in greater Boston.