Monday, March 1, 2010

Living with Adult Children: Health Effects on Elderly Parents

On January 28th, 2006 a 66 year-old Alzheimer's patient went missing from a Charlotte, NC nursing home. She was found severely dehydrated in the facilities storage room after a four day search but died later on in the hospital (3). Increasing news stories, like the one in Charlotte, about neglect and abuse in nursing homes have steadily grown in the last few years. Many people believe that nursing homes are the proper place for the elderly population in the United States; however that may not be the case. A recent study by Dr. Feinian Chen of North Carolina State University and Dr. Susan E. Short of Brown University examined the health effects on elderly Chinese cohabiting with their adult children. They used the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey (CLHLS) to gather subjective and quantitative data on the well-being of elderly Chinese citizens, particularly, those 80 and over.

Approximately 72.5% of the 7,534 participants lived with family members, defined as spouse, children, or both. 55.2% of elderly parents lived with their children. The researchers found that elderly parents who lived with their daughters reported higher well being than those who lived with their sons despite traditional living arrangements supporting the latter. The researchers hypothesize that “gendered care giving patterns” (a daughter is more likely to be more attentive than a son) played a role in the results. However, reported well-being lowered when the elderly parent was responsible for childcare; but the negative effects lessened as the age of the child increased, number of children decreased, and grandparent age decreased. The researchers needed more data to conclude if childcare for elderly parents caused an overall negative effect on their health. Drs. Chen and Short found that emotional health is improved when elderly parents lived with or were frequently visited by their family. The elderly Chinese who lived in nursing homes also reported a positive well-being. For the 10.1% who lived alone an overall negative well-being was reported. Overall, the study showed positive well-being for the elderly who lived with someone. There was no significant difference if they lived with family or in a care facility.

Dr. Chen has plans to do a similar study in the United States using the Health and Retirement Survey funded by the National Institute on Aging for the elderly population in that country. A significant difference may be found since previous studies showed that independent living in the United States has had a positive effect on the elderly. However, Dr. Chen plans to focus on African-American and Hispanic families where grandparents play a significant role in family life. With increasing news coverage on neglect and abuse in nursing homes, Dr. Chen and Short’s study shows how elderly parents can receive quality care and an increase in their overall well-being within their children’s home. Even if an elderly parent does not want to live with their children Drs. Chen and Short found that constant family contact and human interact contributes to the overall positive well being of elderly parents.

Works Cited:
1. Burns, Matthew. "Childcare: Good for Grandparents?" North Carolina State University. (accessed February 4, 2010).

2. Chen, Feinian, and Susan E. Short. "Household Context and Subjective Well-Being Among the Oldest in China." Journal of Family Issues 29, no. 10 (2008): 1379-1403.

3. Perlmutt, David. "Missing Patient Found, but Dies: Woman, Focus of 4-Day Search, Was in Nursing Home Storage Room." Charlotte Observer 28 Jan. 2006: 1. Print.


  1. Wow, this study shows human contact really is important for good health, and probably not just with the elderly.

    The results were very interesting. However, I was confused in the middle because the elderly who lived in nursing homes in China reported positive well-being (it slightly contradicts the intro). I'm curious how the study in the US's results will compare to the first study. Will the same trends be shown or does culture and nationality matter in the care of the elderly? I wonder if China's communist society or the Chinese background in Confucianism have anything to do with the nursing homes in China.

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  3. I, like Hannah, want to know what the researcher predicts about the cultural effect on results in the US--is living with a child stigmatized?

    I also want to know the variables they tested to measure "well-being."

  4. This makes sense on a "common sense" level. I took care of my elderly mother in our home until she passed, and while she was physically ill, she was probably better emotionally than she would have been in a nursing home. I wonder, however, what kind of "data" was collected in this study. My mother always had to nap after her grandsons visited, but I wouldn't have put any kind of assumption on that. I wonder if this is one of the observational studies that was discussed before.

  5. The lede is very good and drew me into the article. The second paragraph, where all the results are listed, shows really interesting data, but I think it is hard to separate the data from each other and reflect on individual findings because of the long paragraph. I would suggest breaking it up into shorter paragraphs, but then again I don't know anything really.

    I found it especially interesting elderly living with a daughter lived longer than those living with a son ha.