Parents With Ailing Children Are Often Sick Too

Parents of children with chronic health problems had more than twice the odds of having their own health problems compared with those with healthy children, according to findings from a study conducted in Canada.

"Even after accounting for factors already known to be related to health - for example age, smoking status, and income - parents of children with chronic health problems were more likely to have health problems themselves," Dr. Jamie C. Brehaut told Reuters Health.

"Parents of children with health problems should take care of themselves - not just their children," said Brehaut, of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa. They should visit their physician regularly and make sure their doctor understands the family situation.

Brehaut and colleagues, analyzed health outcomes among caregivers (90 percent mothers) of 3633 healthy children and 2485 children with chronic mild to severe health conditions who "use a lot of health services," Brehaut said.

These parent/child pairs were part of the larger National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, the researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health.

The families had similar sociodemographic characteristics, except families of children with chronic health issues were more often single-parent households, had slightly younger caregivers (35.4 versus 36.1 years), and more likely to smoke.

Among parents of children with health problems, nearly 57 percent reported their own health issues. By contrast, about 35 percent of parents with healthy kids reported caregiver health issues.

Parents of kids with health problems were more likely to report having limited ability to perform duties at home, work, or elsewhere — 16 percent versus 7 percent among parents with healthy kids.

Caregivers of children with health problems were also more likely to have greater symptoms of depression, and were less likely to report their own health as excellent or very good.

As noted, factors normally associated with poorer health did not explain the greater prevalence of chronic health conditions among parents of children with health problems.

A remaining unknown, which the researchers suggest warrants further investigation, "is how these parent health effects change over time," Brehaut said.