Clark University Sociologist Examines Struggle of Working and Middle Class Caregivers in New Book

Jul 28, 1997, 01:00 ET from Clark University

    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