Doctor of Philosophy
Marilyn A. Biggerstaff
Parent-child caregiving is the most basic caregiving situation. However, parents who continue to provide care to an adult mentally retarded child have been an unexamined group of caregivers. This study compared stress levels and social support constellations among these caregivers and two other groups of parents.
The study tested two major hypotheses. Parents who were caregivers for an adult child with mental retardation were predicted to report higher stress levels and smaller social support constellations than the other groups. Two comparison groups were included in the study. One group was parents of an mentally retarded child who did not live in their household. The second comparison group contained parents who had caregiving responsibilities for non-disabled children.
Data were collected in two ways. The three groups of parents (N =210) responded to a survey which contained characteristics about themselves and their household, stress and their social supports. Additionally, five caregivers of a mentally retarded adult child were interviewed in the family home.
Partial support was found for both the stress and social support hypotheses. Parents who were caregivers for an adult mentally retarded child reported a number of health symptoms and depressed mood items. These caregivers also reported having the fewest number of personal hours per week. Although all three groups of parents reported equal numbers of social supports, differences were found in the roles of the members of the support system and the type of exchanges in the support systems of the three groups. Implications of the research for social work practice, policy and education are presented. Suggestions about additional research on parents of mentally retarded adults are offered.
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