Taking Care of a Parent with Mild Cognitive Impairment: An Exploration of Coping Mechanisms

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Virginia Tech


Caregiving is a dynamic process of transitions and changes that evolves over time. Guided by Montgomery and Kosloski's Caregiver Identity Theory (2000), we explored the coping mechanisms employed by adult children providing support to a parent with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and changes in the use of coping strategies over time. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 11 adult children soon after their parent received a diagnosis of MCI, and again approximately 12 and 24 months thereafter. Two primary findings emerged from our analysis: adult children of parents with MCI (1) employed a variety of coping mechanisms to manage their stress at different times in the care process that included psychological reframing (e.g., acceptance), self-care (e.g., exercise), external engagement (e.g., seeking support) and avoidance (e.g., distancing), and (2) often struggled with their care partner role and the additional and sometimes unexpected responsibilities such as managing money, providing transportation, and assisting with household tasks. Many adult care partners responded to their changing roles by expressing frustration or disappointment, although some still viewed their care partner experiences as generally positive. Consistent with the Caregiver Identity Theory, study participants discussed the stress generated by a perceived incongruity between their expected roles as adult children and the reality of their roles as care partners. Findings suggest that social workers and other mental health professionals who work with adult children of parents with MCI can better assist their clients by educating families about MCI and exploring effective coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.