Open Access
Bangerter, Lauren R
Graduate Program:
Human Development and Family Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 26, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Steven Howard Zarit, Dissertation Advisor
  • Steven Howard Zarit, Committee Chair
  • Jon F Nussbaum, Committee Member
  • Michael J Rovine, Committee Member
  • Kimberly Van Haitsma, Outside Member
  • caregiving
  • family support
  • cortisol
Both in the anticipation and in the context of age-related decline, elderly adults depend on family members for emotional, social, and practical support. Individuals who provide support and caregiving to an aging family member are at heightened risk for a variety of physical, emotional, and mental health consequences. The biological implications of everyday support provision and caregiving, however, are not readily understood. This dissertation consists of two studies that examine how everyday support and family caregiving are linked to salivary cortisol, a biological marker of stress. Study 1 focuses on everyday support that middle-aged children provide to their aging parents. This study takes a daily diary approach to understand whether giving everyday support to aging parents has implications for middle-aged childrens’ diurnal cortisol. Analyses examine whether this association is exacerbated when the parent receiving support has health problems or limitations in activities of daily living. Study 2 looks at family caregiving, a specific form of support provided to family members with cognitive or physical disability. This study utilizes both daily and longitudinal data to examine predictors of caregiver depressive symptoms. Analyses examine caregivers’ biological stress responses (diurnal cortisol) and subjective stressors (role overload and role captivity) as predictors of depressive symptoms across 12 months. This dissertation demonstrates that assessment of biological markers provides critical insight into the stress processes behind providing care and support to aging family members. By taking a biopsychosocial approach, this research reveals under what conditions giving support and care are detrimental to mental health and well-being.