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Every year, nearly a half-million adults over age 65 remarry, and a growing proportion of these spouses – usually the wives – eventually will become primary caregivers. Many will look for aid from those with whom their ties may not be particularly strong: their partners’ adult children. New research suggests the caregivers may be in for bitter disappointment.

There are a lot of “blended families” in the United States. Whether following a divorce or the death of a spouse, this fact of life can raise serious caregiving issues later in life. For example, if you are caring for your elderly husband now, what kind of assistance can you expect from his adult children (and their spouses). Perhaps not much.

As reported in a recent New York Times article titled “Study Finds Wives Often Struggle With Stepchildren Over Caregiving,” a study published by the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that all is not well with older Americans who have formed blended families. There is an unfortunate breakdown occurring in families, often to the detriment of the elderly family member and, at least as poignantly, for the elderly spouse left to care for them without other family assistance. The breakdown falls between the spouses from late-in-life marriages – statistically, the wives – and the adult stepchildren.

Late-in-life-healthcare has simply become a greater burden on elderly persons and their families. This largely is due to the increased costs of care effecting everyone, but especially those with late-in-life conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia. At the same time, late-in-life marriage has become more and more common and that changes the dynamics of family. Sometimes these changes are positive, but other times they can be less so.

When there is a rift between adult children and a step-parent, what happens when the chips are down and an elderly parent/spouse grows ill or begins to suffer from dementia? What happens when the family does not pull together, but rather pulls apart? The latter scenario is a very real possibility in many families. Accordingly, some advance planning would be advisable, so all parties involved can come up with an agreed game plan before a crisis strikes.

What if it is too late and the family is in crisis mode? The best approach may be to mediate and remediate. As the original article points out, family meetings are a very important tool in some circumstances unless the family is already fractured beyond repair. For example, it can be a difficulty to get everyone to even show up and talk.

There might not be a silver-bullet plan that is a one-size-fits-all, but if you engage the issues now you might be able to work through them later.

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