The case for involving adult children outside of the household in the self-management support of older adults with chronic illnesses

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 51+ 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.