Chronic stress and health among parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2010 Sep;23(5):407-11. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e32833a8796.


Purpose of review: This article reviews recent studies connecting chronic stress to health outcomes in parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). This review is timely owing to the increased rates of certain I/DD conditions and the adverse effects that chronic stressors may have on parental health.

Recent findings: Although parents raising children with (versus without) I/DD have long reported greater levels of psychological stress, only recently have parental physical health problems been linked to aspects of the child with I/DD.

Summary: Chronic stressors can wear down the body, particularly the cardiovascular, immune, and gastrointestinal systems. So far, increased rates of caregiver health problems have been linked to caring for an elderly parent or for a child with recurrent cancer. Parents of children with I/DD also more often encounter severe, chronic stressors, particularly those involving child behavior problems and extreme caregiving need. These child characteristics, especially for older parents or for parents of children with certain conditions (e.g. spina bifida), may adversely affect parental health. More research is needed to explore stress-health connections among parents of children with I/DD, as well as the clinical and policy implications of such findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Child
  • Developmental Disabilities / psychology*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology