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Taking Care of Grandparents

Learn about taking care of grandparents with Seniorly. There are both challenges and rewards when grandchildren learn how to take care of grandparents.

By Emma Rodbro · Updated Aug 08, 2022

The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute have provided Caregiver Profile Fact sheets from their Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 data. One of those profiles focuses on millennials — caregivers born between (roughly) 1980 and 2000.  

According to this profile, the typical millennial caregiver is 27 years old and is just as likely to be male as female (a difference from the traditional caregiver profile). These relationships between youth and older adults are generally caring for a 60 year old female relative, most often a parent or grandparent who needs help with a physical condition.  

In many cases, the care that grandchildren taking care of grandparents provide is comparable to that of the typical caregiver. Although they have been providing care for a shorter period of time (just under three years on average) they spend over 20 hours a week helping with daily living and personal care. Half of millennial caregivers do not have any additional support. They are what researchers call primary caregivers - the person in the family who does most of the caregiving tasks. Others are secondary caregivers. They help the primary caregiver with both hands-on care and decision making. Tertiary caregivers help periodically with things like grocery shopping or yard work, but don’t make decisions regarding elder care.

Grandchildren are probably not the first people that come to mind when we think of primary caregivers. But one out of 12 caregivers are caring for a grandparent and 8% of all caregivers over the age of 18 are grandchildren. That’s 5.3 million grandchildren caring for grandparents.

Although grandchildren caring for grandparents is common in some cultures, it’s new to many in the United States. In the U.S. context, grandchildren caregivers are an “out-of-time” event, meaning they take on this role at a point in adult development when we tend to focus on other things. Most of us expect to care for a loved one someday, usually later in life when we have a parent or spouse who needs care. Caregiving earlier in life can sometimes lead to delaying education, careers, romantic relationships and parenthood.  

Still, research by Christine Fruhauf, PhD (Colorado State University) and Nancy Orel, PhD (Bowling Green State University) found that grandchildren have a positive view of their role as caregiver and offer some creative solutions to the challenges they face while caregiving.

For some grandchildren, they are just being supportive and compassionate toward older family members. Others are filling in after a parent or grandparent died. However, most see their caregiving as reciprocal — caring for the older adult who cared for them when they were younger. They want their grandparent to be happy and recognize that he/she won’t always be around. Grandchildren are happy to provide care now because they know they will miss their grandparent when they are gone.

There are many things young people like about learning how to take care of grandparents. It helps them learn more about themselves and their family. They also form a closer relationship with their grandparent, as well as a stronger bond with other family members. They develop skills such as patience, resourcefulness and compassion. Some even consider studying gerontology or other related subjects in college to assist other older adults. Plus, caring for a grandparent makes them feel good about themselves.

Of course, there are things grandchildren don’t like as well. Caregiving can be very time consuming and stressful, especially for young, busy adults. As a result of filling this role, younger caregivers have less time to spend with friends. Sometimes they even have to sacrifice a career, finances and other personal goals in order to meet the needs of their elders. This role can often wear on caregivers, leading them to develop anxiety or other stress-related issues.

But grandchildren taking care of grandparents e also learn to cope. Spending time on things like hobbies, religious activities and socializing is important. And when time is short, young caregivers learn to adapt to the situation. Some grandchildren talked about taking a grandparent on dates or having friends come visit at their grandparent’s house.  


We're Here to Help

Overall, caring for a grandparent is a positive experience. Here are some tips and resources that can help you navigate caring for your grandparent.

If you or your grandparent live in the U.S., Seniorly is here to help you make senior housing decisions based on care needs, your monthly budget, the size of communities and a time frame of when your elders want to move. The Seniorly Resource Center also has an abundance of resources that might be handy in this process:

Other useful resources include:

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written by:
Emma Rodbro

Emma Rodbro

Head of Growth Operations at Seniorly, MA in Social Work with focus on aging from UC Berkeley.
View other articles written by Emma

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