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Caregiving Issues Facing
the Multi-Generational Family

By Helen Hunter, ACSW, CMSW

(Page 1 of 2)

There are many family situations today where you can find three, four or even five generations living under one roof. While the circumstances that result in multi-generational living vary from financial to health-related to simple family closeness, those who live in these types of households deal with many issues. Serving as the main caregiver for an older relative, dealing with grandchildren and having one of their own children living back at home after several years on his/her own can be a challenge for the best of families.

In dealing with your older relative, the most critical aspect is not just tending to their physical needs, but providing them with the emotional support they require as well. Often, it is coping with these emotional needs that is most time consuming and stressful. Family members often ask “How do I talk to my relative about. . . “(You fill in the blank.) The answer is “Not easily.” Remember, your job is to help your older relative make informed, reasonable decisions for themselves, not to make the decision for them. It is also important to realize that they may be frightened about their overall condition, and that this frightened state is relayed through anger toward YOU, the main caregiver. It is crucial to keep the lines of communication open between the generations so that both of you can express your fears and concerns as honestly as possible. You may also wish to gain as much knowledge as possible regarding the older person’s condition so that you know what to expect of them now and in the future. In that way, you can let them maintain their sense of independence and well-being and provide the needed care when it becomes necessary.

Children, even at an early age, can be asked to take on family responsibilities. They can be very helpful and resourceful. They can perform everyday chores like cleaning and help in preparation of meals and laundry. They can also help Grandma or Grandpa by sitting with them, reading together or watching TV, among other things. By involving children, you are giving them an honest look into the daily care giving process and you open the door to start a dialogue about aging issues in general. The relationship between an older relative and a child is invaluable in that the older person provides educational and historical information that is passed on to another generation and the child can give new and fresh insight on things for the older person.

When an older relative begins to fail, either mentally or physically, it can be very confusing and sometimes frightening for a child. There are many resources geared specifically for children that explain the aging process. Children are seen as extremely therapeutic assets as families deal with the daily issues associated with the care of a relative.

Older relatives can also be an invaluable resource to their grandchildren. They can serve as educators, story tellers and, in many instances, serve as the primary providers of care to their grandchildren. Many older people end up “raising” their grandchildren due to a variety of circumstances. These older relatives struggle not only with the daily demands of care needed by their grandchildren, but also with the concerns and struggles that their own children (the grandchildren’s parents) face and their own health and financial issues.

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