WORCESTER, Mass., July 28 /PRNewswire/ -- A new book by Clark University sociologist Deborah Merrill takes a startling look at the lives of adult children who care for their frail, elderly parents. In "Caring for Elderly Parents: Juggling Work, Family, and Caregiving in Middle and Working Class Families," Merrill profiles 50 adult children who care for frail parents while working outside the home and caring for their own families. Unlike any other book on caregiving, Merrill's focuses on how middle-and working-class families handle the burden of caregiving. Her research into this segment of caregivers revealed incredible stories of love, conflict and devotion, told in the caregivers' own words throughout the book. The adult children Merrill interviewed provided extensive personal care for one or both elderly parents, such as bathing, feeding and dressing them, as well as doing housework, cooking and shopping. "I think what amazed me more than anything was how much these caregivers were willing to sacrifice," says Merrill, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology at Brown University. "I would go home at the end of the day and think, 'My life is so easy.'" Merrill, whose research in the last several years has focused on gerontology and family studies, found that most caregivers felt obligated to keep their parents out of a nursing home for as long as possible, which inevitably takes its toll on families. A man caring for and living with his mother, for example, feared that the tension between his wife and mother would soon end his marriage. While sad and distressing, this story is not unusual. According to other researchers, families provide 80 to 90 percent of the overall care of elders, and between 23 and 32 percent of the work force has elder care responsibilities. Those numbers will continue to increase, Merrill adds, as people 85 years of age and older are currently one of the fastest-growing segments of the nation's population. Merrill hopes her book will help spur social change that addresses the needs of caregivers, such as paid leave for working caregivers, increased adult day-care services and more measures to help the elderly live independently. A lack of action, she contends will lead to more elders living at risk, unnecessary nursing-home placements and more overburdened, overstressed families -- all of which will affect the overall economic and social health of the nation.
SOURCE Clark University