Objectives: This study sought to (1) identify barriers to spousal support for chronic illness self-care among community-dwelling older adults; and (2) describe the potential availability of self-care support from adult children living outside of the household.
Methods: Nationally representative US sample of chronically ill adults aged 51þ were interviewed as part of the Health and Retirement Study (N=14,862). Both participants and their spouses (when available) reported information about their health and functioning. Participants also reported information about their contact with adult children and the quality of those relationships.
Results: More than one-third (38%) of chronically ill older adults in the US are unmarried; and when spouses are available, the majority of them have multiple chronic diseases and functional limitations. However, the vast majority of chronically ill older adults (93%, representing roughly 60 million Americans) have adult children, with half having children living over 10 miles away. Most respondents with children (78%) reported at least weekly telephone contact and that these relationships were positive. Roughly 19 million older chronically ill Americans have adult children living at a distance but none nearby; these children are in frequent telephone contact and respondents (including those with multiple chronic diseases) report that the relationships are positive.
Discussion: As the gap between available health services for disease management and the need among community-dwelling patients continues to grow, adult children—including those living at a distance—represent an important resource for improving self-care support for people with chronic diseases.