Young people with a chronically ill parent tend to feel more isolated and constrained in their day-to-day activities than age group peers with healthy parents. Young people with a sick parent have more informal care duties and responsibilities, as well as internalised problems such as fears, depression and physical complaints. These are the findings of a study conducted by scientists from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in collaboration with the UMC Utrecht. The results were published online in the Journal of Child and Family Studies on 22 February 2012.
The study also showed that young people with a sick parent experienced significantly higher stress levels and a larger number of difficult emotional experiences, and achieved considerably poorer school grades. The group differences were most notable in terms of school report marks and variables relating to informal care.
In a nationwide study, researchers assessed the differences between 161 young people (between the ages of 10 and 20) with a chronically ill parent, and 112 young people with two healthy parents. They assessed deviant behaviour, psychosocial performance and school report scores.
Recent years have seen a rise in the number of young children with parents suffering from a chronic physical illness (such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatism or muscular diseases) in the Netherlands. This increase is partly attributable to longer life expectancy for those suffering from serious diseases as a result of medical innovations and the fact that parents are having children at advanced ages. The extent to which a parent’s illness impacts a child is often underestimated.
Need for contact with others in the same situation
According to the study, young people with a chronically ill parent constitute a vulnerable group. They seem to have little time for relaxation and school assignments. Having taken stock of the group’s needs, researchers found that young people with a sick parent would like to get in touch with others in same situation, and need more information on the exact nature of their parent’s diagnosis. They also need greater clarity as to the extent of care they are expected to provide. Researchers at the UvA are set to develop a screening instrument that will help young people in danger of developmental problems at an early stage.
The study is being conducted as part of Dominik Sieh's doctoral thesis The impact of a parent’s chronic illness on the child. This doctoral research is being funded by ZonMw.
D.S. Sieh, J.M.A. Visser-Meily, and A.M. Meijer (2012). Differential outcomes of adolescents with chronically ill and healthy parents. Journal of Child and Family Studies (online publication 22 February). DOI 10.1007/s10826-012-9570-8