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Grand Caregivers

By Paul Wynn

(Page 2 of 3)

Caregiving at all ages

The way in which grandchildren care for grandparents varies considerably based on age and ability – and whether a parent is involved in taking care of grandma and grandpa. Older grandchildren may serve as primary caregivers, and are sometimes forced to leave their jobs and postpone personal and professional ambitions. Activities can range from everyday tasks like cooking meals and taking them to doctor appointments to more strenuous duties such as bathing and feeding loved ones.

Even younger grandchildren can play an important role in caring for a grandparent. Their role is frequently less defined than young and older adults, but kids and teenagers can make ordinary tasks an important part of the overall care.

“Getting an occasional glass of water for grandma is not necessarily a caregiving task; but if a grandchild is asked to provide grandma with water on an hourly basis so she doesn’t become dehydrated, then that becomes a caregiving job,” explains Orel. “Some grandchildren take on a lot of responsibility.”

She remembers meeting one young grandchild who was the only one in her family who could understand grandma because her speech was extremely unclear. Orel says, “In caregiving textbooks, that might not be listed as a caregiving task, but she became the interpreter and filled a very important need for grandma – and the entire family.”

Caring for a grandparent often puts grandchildren in a challenging situation – resulting in role conflicts and potential changes in the dynamic of the grandchild-grandparent relationship. Younger grandchildren still in school can be affected in different ways through missed classes, handing in late homework or not having time to do after-school activities.

Thirteen-year old Synott Embry-Salas understands what it means to be a caregiver at a young age. His grandmother, Libby Embry, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease about four years ago. The two have always been very close and live together on the weekends in Abilene, Texas. Even though Libby’s condition is stable, Synott plays a big role in reminding his sixty-four –year-old nana to take her medications.

He keeps her active by going to movies and travelling the country with her. Last year, the two visited Washington, D.C. to attend an advocacy forum where Libby met members of Congress; and Synott has participated in a summer camp for children affected by Alzheimer’s disease that he found to be really helpful. “Being a caregiver is one of my jobs, but I’m always her grandson first,” he says.

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