When family caregivers are under a lot of stress, the chances increase that their loved ones will have to move to a nursing home. That’s the conlusion of an important new study by my Urban Institute colleagues Brenda Spillman and Sharon Long.

That conclusion may seem obvious to caregivers, but Spillman and Long back it up with some hard data. They found that when family members suffer physical strain, lack of sleep, or financial pressures, their elders are far less likely to be able stay at home. Their research squares with what I saw over and over again with the families in my book Caring for Our Parents.

One family, Steve and Judy Dow of Burlington, Vermont were trying to care for Steve’s mom, Judy’s parents, and raise two high school kids while working full time–Steve as a contractor and Judy as a public school teacher. It finally became too much, especially with Steve’s mother who suffered from severe dementia, and the couple made the decision to move her into an assisted living facility.

There are lots of other reasons why chronically ill seniors are no longer able to stay at home, including their own declining health. But Brenda and Sharon conclude that if severe caregiver stress could somehow be eliminated, nursing home admissions could be cut by more than 70,000. 

Finding ways to reduce these crushing levels of stress is not easy, but this research, which expands on the results of some earlier studies, shows why it is important to try.