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Translating Basic Research on the Aging Family to Caregiving Interventions

Caregiver prepping coffee for loved one.

Megan Gilligan, Ph.D.

Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University

Older adults will represent 22% of the United States (U.S.) population by 2040, which is the largest proportion of older adults ever in U.S. history (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015). As the older adult population rapidly increases, the need for family caregivers is also becoming more common. To meet the needs of future caregivers, researchers are doing their best to understand the caregiving experience. Due to the stress and burden of caregiving, caregivers can develop negative health effects. Much of past caregiving research and interventions are concentrated solely on the caregiver or care recipient, but recent research suggests that to ensure that caregiving is a positive experience, we need to consider multiple relationships within families. This webinar will stress the importance of connecting caregiving research with real-world practices and programs through two ongoing research projects.

Within-Family Differences Study

The Within-Family Differences Study (WFDS) is a prime example of connecting research with practice, or translational research, by utilizing family research to inform future caregiver interventions and therapies (https://web.ics.purdue.edu/~jsuitor/within-family-differences-study/). The WFDS aims to understand caregiving decisions by investigating the parent-adult child and sibling relationships. The study results suggest that parents have preferences and expectations for which child takes on the role of family caregiver. By using translational research, this study indicates families should begin caregiving conversations before care is needed and programs should be more focused on the intricacies of the family dynamic rather than the individual caregiver or caregiving dyad.

Families in Later Life Research Lab

Dr. Gilligan and her research team at Iowa State University, The Families in Later Life Research Lab, are in the early stages of a new project funded by the National Institute on Aging.  This study will use a unique, mixed-methods approach comprised of survey, biological, and observational data collected from two siblings within families to examine associations between adult sibling relations and health and well-being outcomes in the context of caring for an older parent with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (ADRD). The findings from this study will fill a knowledge gap regarding the health vulnerability of adult children during a stressful life event. Insights from this study can help to shape future prevention and intervention efforts aimed at improving sibling interaction strategies and the overall health and well-being of adult children caring for older parents with ADRD. The more we know about family caregiving within the context complex family relationships, the better prepared families can be before entering into the caregiving relationship.

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