Life with Ailing Relative Can Place Stress on Teens, Researcher SaysThe Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA - June 02, 2005
BY ELIZABETH SIMPSON
Fifteen-year-old Josh Stanley loves his grandmother, and is happy to share his Virginia Beach home with her. But he admits there are difficulties in being part of a caregiving family.
For instance, having to tell his grandmother who he is.
Gladys Stanley, 88, has had dementia for about 15 years. The hardest part is her not remembering, Josh said. Every time, you have to explain who you are again.
Josh is one of a number of local teens being interviewed by an Eastern Virginia Medical School professor who is studying the impact that living in caregiving families has on teens.
Maximiliane Szinovacz, a professor of internal medicine at the EVMS Glennan Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology, first interviewed youngsters about the subject in the late 1990s. She found they faced more chores, responsibilities and anxieties. They worried about what would happen if their relative died in their care.
They also had to curtail activities with friends, and sometimes felt their needs were overshadowed by those of their relatives.
Having parents who were physically, emotionally and financially stressed with caregiving also created problems at times.
Szinovacz now is working on a second study, funded by a grant from the Hartford Foundation, to research ways to help younger members of caregiving families. She is looking for teens in high school to interview, along with their parents.
The teens will gather together this summer to explore whether a support group would be helpful.
Josh said none of his friends have disabled relatives who live with them. But he said his buddies are understanding of his family situation. His grandmother has lived with the family since November, and has spent other six- and seven-month stints with them during the past 15 years. She also spends time with three other adult children who live in South Carolina, Florida and Oregon.
Joshs parents, Kathie and Gene Stanley have three younger children 6, 9 and 12 but Kathie believes the situation is toughest for Josh, because he has a higher level of understanding and is more likely to take on responsibility as the oldest.
Shortly after her arrival in November, Gladys had several spells of anxiety, once waking up screaming in the middle of the night. One time, Josh was alone at home with her while his parents met with an attorney who specializes in elder care. His grandmother became agitated and afraid, and was difficult to console.
Kathie said her son spends time in the evening e-mailing friends on a family computer located in the kitchen. But his grandmothers room is next to it, and she often wanders through the kitchen, repeatedly asking the same question. He sometimes tells her she needs to go to bed, and she gets aggravated with him.
Kathie said she and her husband try not to ask Josh to care for his grandmother too often, because he has a busy schedule of school, scouting and surfing.
She wants him to enjoy his youth and not be burdened by caregiving.
At first there were times Kathie couldnt get Josh and her other children to all the places they needed to go because she didnt feel comfortable leaving Gladys at home alone.
Recently though, Gladys has been on a new medication that has helped ease her anxiety and her back pain. Shes able to go with Kathie on trips to the childrens activities.
Szinovacz interviewed about 40 youngsters who were 12 to 19 years old for her first study, which was published in the Journal of Aging Studies in 2003.
Most of the youngsters were living in homes with an ailing grandparent, but sometimes a disabled parent or other relative lived there.
Teens often picked up more chores around the house, as their parents were busy with caregiving. Some even helped out with the care, and were called upon to granny sit, as the teens called it. This sometimes put them in an awkward authoritative role, particularly if they were caring for someone with dementia.
But the youngsters also mentioned the positives of caregiving. Many of the youngsters said they grew closer to their family, learned to be more responsible and gained perspective on aging. They witnessed their parents handling difficult situations and gained empathy for them.
Kathie said she believes her children have learned an important lesson in values by living in a caregiving home. Josh said he is glad hes been able to spend time with his grandmother.
Shes pretty old, so she might not be around long, he said.
Ten years ago, Kathie also cared for her grandmother, who died at home after six months. But her mother-in-laws illness has gone on for much longer.
Medical advances have lengthened the life spans of the elderly, even those who are disabled or in poor health, Szinovacz said. Its one reason why she believes her study will be helpful to youngsters in families.
Its going to be a growing problem as people live longer, she said.
* Reach Elizabeth Simpson at (757) 446-2635 or firstname.lastname@example.org
(C) 2005 The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserve
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