Cognitive aging in parents of kids with disabilities

Cognitive aging in parents of kids with disabilities

Caring for a child with special abilities is not an easy job. Parents and caretakers always have to be on their toes, which could take a toll on their health – both mental and physical. Several studies vindicate the veracity of the claim that there is a cognitive decline in the parents of children with disabilities.

According to Jieun Song, associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Waisman Center, who conducted a study on the cognitive decline of parents with disabled children, “Chronic stress has been found in past research to lead to memory decline, especially among older women, as a result of both mental health problems and physical health problems.”

The research was done with an objective to study the cognitive functioning of parents of children with disabilities, specifically if there is any evidence of accelerated cognitive aging among these parents. Apart from this, the study also investigates the moderating influences of two variables – parents’ gender and stress from negative parenting experience.

The researchers collated data of 128 parents with children who had childhood-onset disabilities and 512 parents of typically-developing kids. There was questionnaire, mail-in-survey and an array of cognitive tests.

Disabled kids’ mothers more affected

The findings of this survey brought out some startling and disturbing facts. Parents with disabled children had more instances of negative experiences than parents with healthy kids. However, mothers were more affected as fathers in both categories fared almost the same. The memory decline in some mothers was at a perilous level.

The study also revealed that mothers of those with disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and intellectual disability have double the chances of experiencing depression compared to other mothers.

The study concluded that when parents take care of disabled children over a long period, it jeopardises their cognitive function and memory. It impacts older mothers more than others. It is an outcome of possibly a heightened parenting stress resulting from higher levels of negative parenting experiences.

“The findings indicate that keeping quality friendship, sense of control for life and (a) physically active lifestyle would help to protect these parents from accelerated cognitive aging,” Song said.

This means, the adverse effects can be countered with the right measures. Let us see what measures can be taken to prevent cognitive decline in these parents:

Cultivate an active social life: When parents of children with special needs lay emphasis on an active social life much of their worries and stress dissipate. With close family friends and acquaintances lending an eager ear to them, they feel much lighter as they manage to share some of their burden.

Opt for an active lifestyle: An active lifestyle with adequate physical activities like exercises, yoga, etc., will go a long way to prevent any decline in cognitive function of the parents with disabled children.

Develop meaningful friendship: Genuine friends and relationships can also help these parents with disabled children. Sharing their ordeal and agony takes away much of the pain and prevents any degeneration of cognitive function or memory in them. 

Develop self-control techniques: With control over one’s life there is a feeling of elation which does a whole lot of good to the body. Feeling in control over one’s life boosts the immune system and prevent any degradation of cognitive function.

By taking these simple steps, the parents handling children with special abilities can prevent cognitive decline in themselves.

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression or anxiety, help is available. Call the California Mental Health Helpline today to speak with a professional about treatment services in your area.