Research — 21 September 2013

New research chronicles the extra demands placed on parents of chronically ill children and finds that caregiving demands created greater stress then the severity or length of the child’s sickness.

The study is the first to look at the multiple factors that contribute to parental stress when raising a special needs child, stress that impacts the whole family. Some 15 percent of U.S. families have a chronically ill child with special needs. mother and daughter

Researchers analyzed and assessed 96 peer-reviewed studies in 12 countries between 1980 and 2012.

Investigators reviewed studies involving parents of children up to age 21 with asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, epilepsy, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and/or sickle cell disease.

In addition to identifying common stress triggers, parents also need help coping with the strain, said Melissa Cousino, M.D., lead author of the report.

In addition to usual parenting responsibilities, parents of chronically ill children deal with special needs such as doctor or therapy appointments, medical treatments, hospitalizations and school issues that can be overwhelming while trying to integrate the sick child’s needs into the family routine.

Parents reported suffering added stress from watching their child in pain, and from worrying about the child’s vulnerability and explaining the health problems to those outside the family.

Co-author Dr. Rebecca Hazen, psychologist and assistant professor from the Department of Pediatrics, provided the following tips on reducing parenting stress:

  • Be open to assistance from friends or family who may be able to help reduce some of the stress;
  • To decrease the demands on one parent, parents should find ways to share parenting and treatment responsibilities;
  • Let your child’s doctor know if you think you may need help in managing the stress related to caring for a child with a chronic illness.

The study results are reported in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

Source: Case Western University.

This article first appeared on Psych Central on 20 September, 2013.


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