Healthy Aging Column – Grandchildren Caregivers: Helpful Hints Providing Care to Grandparents

Over the past 20 years, many popular magazines, self-help books and research studies have been published on care giving related issues. With the increase in life expectancy and shrinking family size, the increase of dual-earner households and the increase in multiple generation families, researchers and the general public are interested in understanding care giving issues among the aging population.

In 2000, over 26 percent of adults provided care to chronically ill, disabled or aged family members (National Family Caregivers Association, 2003), making that about one out of four adults (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2002). While adult children make up the majority of America’s informal caregivers (37 percent ), grandchildren are fourth in line (after spouse and other relatives) comprising 8 percent  of informal caregivers (FACCT & The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2003). Although the percentage of grandchildren caregivers among all informal caregivers is small, this does not necessarily imply that their experiences are less significantly relevant than those of other family caregivers.

It was not until the early 1990s that researchers actually began examining the experiences of grandchildren caregivers. Grandchildren experience care giving similar to spousal and adult child caregivers. For example, grandchildren find they are providing the same type of care giving tasks as other caregivers (i.e., help with household chores to personal care), and they notice a decease in the time spent in other activities and financial strains. Benefits include spending more time with their grandparent, a sense of knowing they have contributed to their family and learning about their own abilities.

Grandchildren, however, may experience care giving differently because they may be influenced by the intergenerational relationships that exist over the life course as well as by the grandchildren’s own level of development. Moreover, grandchildren caregivers’ experiences may have implications for their own current or future biological, psychological and social development.

If you are a grandchild who is assuming some, if not all, of the care giving responsibilities for a grandparent or if you know of a grandchild in your family who helps assist with care giving duties for a

grandparent, the following are helpful hints that may make the care giving role easier to manage.

– Do not neglect yourself. Grandchildren may experience a decline in the amount of time available to dedicate to school, a new job, maintaining friendships and establishing romantic relationships and/or raising young children. Remember, being a grandchild caregiver is only one role that you have (among many – daughter, sister, girlfriend, friend, wife, mother, employee, etc.). Find ways to include this role in your life while still achieving your own personal and professional goals.

– Be creative. Take grandma or grandpa on your dates (if you have been dating for a while) or outings with friends. If you have children, bring them with you when you are helping your grandparent. This way, you are able to still enjoy developmentally appropriate activities while being able to provide care to your grandparent.

– Separate yourself. For some grandchildren it is difficult to provide personal care (i.e., bathing, dressing and toileting). If you find yourself not being able to successfully assist your grandparent with these activities, separate yourself. That is, at that moment when you are providing personal care, think of yourself as a caregiver who has to "get the job done" and not a grandchild. This change in mindset may help you complete the care giving task while meeting the needs of your grandparent.

– Educate yourself. If your grandparent has a specific chronic illness or disease (i.e., arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, etc.), it is important that you take time to read or attend educational sessions about how to best meet his or her needs.

– Find support. If you find that providing care to a grandparent is difficult, whether it be the types of tasks with which you are assisting or the change in your relationship with your grandparent, seek both informal and formal support.

Informal support will come from other family members and friends. You may find

that some family members or friends think you should not provide care because you should be spending time at school or at work. If your informal support network is not compassionate to your needs, find others to discuss the benefits and drawbacks to providing care to a grandparent.  

Formal support (in the form of support groups or individual counseling) can be

helpful to you as you manage your care giving responsibilities with other areas of your life. If you are a caregiver who is assisting a parent or relative with the care of your grandparent, attending support groups together that have been designed for spouses and adult children could potentially benefit all caregivers.

Although grandchildren caregivers face an important role at the time of their lives when they developmentally could be concentrating on other areas, grandchildren can be successful. The important thing to remember about care giving to a grandparent is that taking care of yourself is the first step to taking care of your grandparent. When grandchildren caregivers are both physically and mentally healthy, they can provide better care to their grandparent.  

Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available at Select Family and Consumer, then Healthy Aging.

References: FACCT. & The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2003). "A portrait of informal caregivers in America, 2001."  Portland, OR: FACCT-The Foundation for Accountability.

Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2002, July 7). The wide circle of care giving. Retrieved March 26, 2003. from

National Family Caregivers Association. (January, 2003). "Family care giving statistics." Retrieved Jan. 28, 2003, from

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by Dr. Christine Fruhauf,  Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Colorado State University