A new study may help providers of aging services better understand the unique relationship between residents and their older-adult children.

Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of Gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, will study the relationships of parents older than 95 with a child older than 65. Her research will be funded by a $419,855 grant from the National Institute on Aging.

Senior children and very old, living parents are relatively common today.

“And virtually nothing is known about the relationships of very old adults and their ‘old’ children,” says Boerner, who will lead a team examining the relationships of 120 such parent-child pairs.

“Our primary objective is to explore the nature and consequences of the very old parent-child relationship and to offer insight into characteristics that may be associated with greater risk for poor well-being and care-related outcomes,” she says.

Boerner hopes the study will contribute to research that can help identify when and how intervention may ease stress points in those relationships.

“Our central hypothesis is that the very old parent-child relationship is characterized by both rewards and challenges but that challenges dominate,” she says. “That takes into consideration the age-related health limitations of both the very old and the ‘old’ child, as well as the compromised freedom and ability to pursue other goals that come with a child’s caregiving involvement at that age.”

Boerner’s 2-year study will examine the emotional support as well as practical help senior children provide to their parents. It will also research the kinds of support the very old parent can still offer his or her child.

The study will seek to identify characteristics that may be associated with greater risks to well-being and care outcomes. That will contribute “a rich array of cues for our long-term goal of intervention development, allowing us to identify the unique challenges” facing old children and their parents, Boerner says.