Study Finds Many Older Adults Requiring Daily Living Assistance May Become Depressed

February 18, 1998

WASHINGTON -- One of the first studies undertaken to examine the effects caregiving has on care recipients found that physically disabled older adults may not always receive the appropriate amount of help they need, and nearly 40 percent reported emotional distress from receiving assistance. Research to be reported in the March issue of Health Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), also indicates that negative responses to help from a caregiver may lead to increased depression among care recipients up to one year after participation in the study.

In a study of 276 physically impaired older Americans age 65 and over (average age - 76 years) requiring regular assistance with one or more daily activities from their spousal caregivers, psychologists Jason T. Newsom, Ph.D., of Portland State University and Richard Schulz, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh found that 50 percent of disabled care recipients reported being helped with activities unnecessarily, while 28 percent reported not receiving help that they needed. "We are starting to learn that family caregiving may not always be as successful as we assumed it to be," says Dr. Newsom, lead author of the study.

Some of the factors that may predict negative responses to help included greater physical impairment, lower self-esteem, and a perceived lack of ability to control events in one's life. The study participants were suffering from a range of disabling conditions, including arthritis, stroke, heart disease, and eye disease.

The study found that negative reactions to assistance significantly predicted depression in care recipients as long as one year after participation in the study, indicating that such negative reactions may have long-lasting effects. Since providing care for individuals suffering exclusively from physical impairments is usually less challenging than caring for the mentally impaired, particularly individuals suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, the authors suggest that developing appropriate helping behaviors may be even more important when caring for the mentally impaired.

Further research on negative reactions to caregiving may increase knowledge of the relationship between physical impairment and depression. The researchers suggest future research should aim to collect more information concerning specific types of negative reactions care recipients demonstrate resulting from spousal assistance while gauging which caregiver behaviors are viewed unfavorably by the physically impaired. The authors conclude that "the potential consequences for the mental health of care recipients also suggest the need for interventions that may ultimately improve caregiving exchanges and the quality of life for care recipients."

Article: "Caregiving from the Recipient's Perspective: Negative Reactions to Being Helped" by Jason T. Newsom, Ph.D., Portland State University, and Richard Schulz, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, in Health Psychology, Vol. 17, No. 2.

(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

(Jason T. Newsom, Ph.D. can be reached at 503-725-5136 or

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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