Some caregivers are thrust into their role—forced to care for a family member, regardless of whether that family member was abusive or absent during the caregiver's life. Traditionally, it has been the duty of adult children to care for their elderly parents. But, for those with the opportunity to pick who they care for, research shows that the quality and strength of the relationship may be more important than genetic ties.
A study conducted by scientists from the University of Missouri Department of Human Development and Family Studies indicates that biology carries a certain amount of clout when divvying up caregiving duties. But personal bonds were found to top DNA.
People participating in the study were asked to respond to various theoretical caregiving situations with who they thought the caregiver should be. The majority of participants said biological factors are relevant in caregiving decisions, but they do not automatically require adult children to help older relatives.
Researchers distilled a prospective caregiver's decision down to three main considerations: their financial ability to provide care, the strength of the relationship with the potential beneficiary of their care, and whether or not the care recipient had helped the prospective caregiver in the past.
Divorce muddies the waters with regards to who should be caring for an elderly person. A person may be less inclined to care for an absent father than they would a step-father who had helped their mother support them as a child. These findings are especially relevant as, according to research from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the divorce rate among aging Baby Boomers has doubled in the past 20 years.
The determination of who should care for an aging relative is far too multi-faceted to be addressed in a single research study. Lawrence Ganong, the lead researcher of the University of Missouri study, says that more investigation needs to be done into how interpersonal relationships impact caregiving decisions.
In the meantime, he encourages adult children to engage their aging parents in conversations about who will care for them, should the need arise.