When it comes to who they want taking care of them when they get older, it turns out that some mothers do play favorites, according to findings from a recent Purdue University study.

Researchers found that women with multiple children may have a preference for which of their offspring will act as their caregiver when they get older. Follow-up investigations found that those who expressed a preference were likely to experience higher levels of stress and depressive symptoms if their chosen son or daughter wasn't able to care for them.

This increased level of stress was attributed to the fact that the non-preferred caregivers weren't on the same social and emotional wavelength as their aging mothers.

Aging, dependence amplifies need for connection

Increasing age and declining health makes many people seek out deeper emotional connections with people who share their views and perspectives.

In a university press release, study author Jill Suitor says that being on the same page is important because a senior is being forced to surrender some of their power and accept help from someone else. "Who do you want to give up control to? To someone who has the same outlook on life and who you think is very much like you, and, therefore, can respond to your needs and be a source of reassuring support."

Suitor says that she hopes the findings will encourage adult children to engage in open dialogues with their aging parents about their care preferences—including whether or not a particular child is the desired caregiver. Even if certain factors make it impossible for the preferred child to provide care, they may be able to give advice and insight on how to handle certain situations to the siblings who assume the caregiving duties.

As is true of many caregiving topics, these discussions may be extremely difficult for families to have—parents are technically not supposed to have favorites. It may help to approach the issue from the perspective that it's not about which child is the "favorite," but which child has similar traits and world views in common with a particular parent.