New Age of Caregiving: Grandchildren Caring for Grandparents

Author: Amanda Woodward

| Posted on: October,01 | Viewed: 4204 times

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The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute recently shared Caregiver Profile Fact sheets from their Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 data. One of those profiles focuses on millennials - caregivers aged 18 to 34.  

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 young 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 they 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 grandparent 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 grandchildren like about their caregiving role. 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. 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, millennial 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 people in this role 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.  

RESOURCES

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

Seniorly offers a variety of useful resources and tools.

If you or your grandparent live in California, the Seniorly search engine helps 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. It’s important to have conversations early on with your grandparent about their long-term care needs. The Seniorly Resource Center has many articles that can help, such as:

  • Deciding what type of senior housing is right for them

Other useful resources include:

The U.S. Administration on Aging Eldercare Locator to find help in your community

The HBO documentary “Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am?”  

The Alzheimer’s Association search tool for finding programs and services in your area


About Amanda Woodward

Amanda Toler Woodward, PhD is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Michigan State University. She does research on services and supports for older adults including racial and ethnic disparities in access to services and international comparisons of service systems. She writes about a wide range of topics related to aging research, social work, academia, and whatever else catches her fancy at www.amandatolerwoodward.com


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