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Grand Caregivers

By Paul Wynn

(Page 1 of 3)

With the increase in multi-generational families, grandchildren are playing a bigger role in caring for grandma and grandpa.

For more than 12 years, Helen “Pixie” Hicks has been lovingly cared for by her 41-year old grandson, David Dunham, who balances the demands of caregiving with his full-time position at the University of California at Berkeley. Dunham is the primary caregiver to Grandma Helen because the family cannot afford round-the-clock care; but he receives help from his wife, who has a full-time teaching position, and his mother who is disabled and provides as much support as she can.

“Managing the stress related to daily caregiving is very challenging, but there are great rewards that come with the responsibility, such as returning the love and care that my grandmother has unconditionally and generously given to me all my life,” says Dunham.

Dunham is one of a small, but growing group of grandchildren providing care to grandparents. An estimated 5.3 million, or eight percent of all caregivers over the age of 18, are grandchildren, according to a joint report by the National Alliance for Caregiving, AARP and MetLife Foundation. That number is estimated to be even higher since there are many individuals under age 18 who also provide care, says Nancy Orel, PhD, director of the gerontology program at Bowling Green State University, who has studied the grandchildren-as-caregiver trend.

She adds that close to four percent of families are multi-generational so there’s a strong likelihood that grandchildren are providing some assistance or care if the grandparent is over the age of 70. “Multi-generational households will increase further as the population ages and young adults move home, so that will mean more grandchildren will be involved in caregiving.”

The Olson’s are one of those multi-generational families. When Samantha Olson was 8 years old, her grandparents moved in next door so the family could care for her grandfather who has multiple sclerosis. Now in her early 20s and attending law school, Olson recognizes how lucky she was to grow up helping her grandfather. “As a family, we have been able to work together as a team to provide most of his care and that has meant a lot to all of us.” 

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