Typically, we don’t think of grandchildren stepping into the caring role for their grandparents in the UK. Whilst it is commonplace in other cultures, here it is only becoming more of the norm as grandparents live longer and their grandchildren enter adulthood and are suited to a caring role. Yet, it’s very under recognised; we don’t even have data to tell us how prevalent it is. At Eastleigh, we are here to support the whole family as they care for ageing loved ones and we recognise that taking care of grandparents brings its own unique challenges.

The time of our lives

In our experience, grandchildren taking care of grandparents fall into this role at a point when they are only just finding their feet in adulthood. There seem to be multiple reasons why it happens, and why caring doesn’t fall to the immediately younger generation of sons and daughters. Often it’s a matter of practicality, with the ‘sandwich generation’ being unavailable due to being at the peak of their career, or through their own ill health.

Regardless of the reasoning, caring for a grandparent when in your late teens or twenties comes with its own concerns. Often there are conflicts between the caring responsibilities of the young adult and their own busy life, starting out on their career or still in education, and as yet not having the financial freedom to make things easier. Indeed, we’ve even seen caring for grandparents result in the delay of life plans including parenthood and international moves.

Know the level of care needed

As with all carers, it is important that if you are caring for a grandparent, you fully understand the level of care needed and view this alongside what you are able to give. It is rare that care needs simply arise overnight. Instead, they can increase gradually, making it difficult for the person doing the caring to recognise when they are no longer in a position to provide all of the care. There’s a huge difference between popping in with some shopping once a week and providing companionship, and being worried that your grandparent is unable to get dressed without you there.

It is not a failing to recognise that you may need help. It is at times like this when residential care can restore the relationship between grandparent and grandchild, providing the home-from-home security and support that is needed. This allows the loving bond to flourish without either party feeling out of their comfort zone.

What grandchildren can do to care for their ageing grandparents

There is plenty that grandchildren can do to for their grandparents as they need more care. Taking care of grandparents can include:

  • Companionship: The biggest gift you can give your grandparent is time. Phone calls and visits should predominantly focus on companionship.
  • Daily living tasks: From making a meal and stocking their freezer, to taking them to the shops, basic tasks like this can lighten the load making it easier for your grandparent to remain independent.
  • Making arrangements: Depending on your own level of life experience to date, you may need to do some research first, but you can help out by making arrangements for your grandparent as they need them. For example, you can arrange for hairdressing to be done at home or carry out internet searches to find them aids that will help.
  • Socialising and holidays: Being older can cause your social life to shrink because it’s harder to get out and about. Grandchildren can care for their relative by acting as ‘taxi’, or asking their grandparent to holiday with them and their family.
  • Home improvements: You may be able to put in rails, or mobility aids, to make it easier for your grandparent to move around their home more safely.

When you might need help and where to get it

It’s important to recognise when caring for a grandparent is impacting on your wellbeing, or theirs. Typically we have seen problems in the following areas:

  • Medical care: It can be very overwhelming for younger adults to navigate the medical arena their grandparents are experiencing. The generational difference can make it hard for both sides, particularly if the responsibility falls solely on your shoulders.
  • Mental or physical decline: Knowing what’s ‘normal’ and ‘safe’ is difficult for all non-professional carers, but especially so when the person doing the caring has much less life experience.
  • Finances: Knowing how to assist your grandparent with their finances and the cost of their growing care needs can be worrying and difficult if you don’t have the financial security that usually comes with age.
  • Incontinence: In our experience, elderly individuals with incontinence issues prefer to be helped by non-family members, as a matter of dignity.
  • Arranging future care: It is always hard for elderly individuals and their relatives to jointly decide on the right time for further care. However, it can be particularly difficult for younger adults who have long been in the position of ‘child’ in the view of the grandparent.

If you are able to pass the responsibility for making care decisions to someone older within the family, you may find this to be beneficial to you both. However, there are other avenues of support.

  • Speak to your GP: Speak to your GP and potentially also your grandparents. They can signpost you to help and the relevant social services.
  • Find a mentor: Connect with someone more experienced who can support you as you care for your grandparent. A family friend, minister, or hobby connection may be willing to help. Be honest about how you feel.
  • Get care support: Arrange for carers at home, or move your loved one into residential care. Be aware that with in-home carers, much of the organisation and oversight of your grandparent’s care will still fall to you.

At Eastleigh, we’re here to support the whole family in providing the right care for their loved one. Do get in touch if you need our help.