9 Tips for Taking Care of Your Grandparents (If You’ve Never Done It Before)

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Lots of people at different ages are now finding themselves in the positions of setting out to care for their grandparents. You could be a millennial, a Gen X baby, or from another decade. According to AARP, of the “over 40 million family caregivers, about 1 in 4 is part of the Millennial generation.”

Jump ahead to these sections:

For those unsure where they stand, millennials are born between 1980 to 1995. You may think that people who become caregivers are older adults providing support for their aging parents over the age of 70. But, as people live longer, it is not unusual to see people living into their 90s and beyond.

Multigenerational households are also increasing, especially now that many adult children are moving back home and grandparents might reside there as well. It is natural for a younger person to assume some of the caregiving duties for a grandparent in these situations. Add to that the growing cost of senior living and the desire for people to age at home, and you have a recipe for multigenerational family caregiving. 

What Are the Different Types of Care a Grandchild Might Need to Give Their Grandparent?

A grandchild can provide the same type of care for a grandparent that any caregiver would. Grandchildren may start with companionship, running errands, and transportation but caregiver tasks can escalate into more complex duties. Of course, many caregiver duties will depend upon a grandparent’s age, medical problems, and mobility.

Although state regulations might constrain professional caregivers, family members are not, opening the door to providing medical tasks. According to the AARP study of Millenials, a higher percentage of these tasks was performed by these caregivers: transportation, preparing meals, shopping, and housework. Other caregiving tasks include giving medications, transferring, toileting, bathing, feeding, dressing, and managing finances. 

As more people age at home due to care costs, grandchildren may find themselves being asked to provide medical care like insulin checks, catheter and wound care, and more.

Tips for Taking Care of an Aging Grandparent

It is important to remember that all caregivers have other responsibilities, duties, interests, and goals, but grandchildren are at the prime of their lives. If you are in your 20s or 30s, you may be in school, starting a family, or a career. Or perhaps as a child of an aging parent, you have asked your own adult offspring to help with caregiving duties due to time, cost, or your own responsibilities.

In either case, being prepared and sensitive to the unique needs of not only the grandparent but the grandchild will help things go more smoothly. Consider designing a caregiving plan that defines duties, time limitations, and a long-term care plan if other options need to be considered. 

Caring for a grandparent is unique in that there are opportunities for connection and growth on both sides. The generational differences can be challenging, but we have some tips to help you become a better caregiver and person.

1. Ask for help

If you feel uncertain about a task, ask for help. It is human nature to want to do the best job and show that you are competent. It is better to ask about something you don’t know than to make a mistake that might cause harm. Call your parent or your grandparent’s doctor or other healthcare providers to get an answer before proceeding.

The other time to ask for help is if you are feeling overwhelmed. As a responsible caregiver, it is very easy to slip into caregiver burnout and sacrifice your own life for your grandparent. If you sense that happening, tell someone. It is not a sign of weakness or inability to do your job to ask for help when these tasks become too much. The last thing any caregiver wants or needs is to experience burnout.

2. Manage your time and take care of yourself

Managing your time and taking care of yourself is a challenge for all caregivers. If you need to, set limits on what you are able to do. Again, the last thing anyone wants you to do is to feel like you’re giving up your life to take care of an aging grandparent. It can help to set a schedule so that you don’t start spending more and more time with caregiving duties. Other ways to take care of yourself:

  • Reach out regularly to your friends so that you don’t feel isolated.
  • Engage in the activities that bring you joy, like music, exercise, art, reading, or anything else that you take pleasure in.
  • Make sure you eat well. Try and avoid junk food, which will adversely affect your energy level.
  • Go for walks to clear your head and take a break.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with stress.

3. Show respect

The generational difference between a grandchild and a grandparent can be significant. Ways of relating and speaking might be quite a bit different than what you are used to. A good rule of thumb is to show respect at all times.

In general, it is more compassionate and caring to ask rather than tell a grandparent what to do. Ageism runs throughout our society, and we all internalize some degree of disregard for someone solely due to their age. Resist the temptation to categorize or make assumptions. Your grandparent is who they always were, just older!

4. Ask for feedback

If you are uncertain about how to do something, especially tasks that are intimate like dressing or toileting, just ask. It is better to ask how someone prefers to be touched than to be uncertain about it and make a mistake.

Caregiving creates an unequal dynamic where your grandparent is dependent upon you, which can be embarrassing and humiliating. Privacy is important and talking about how your grandparent feels is the best way to show sensitivity. 

5. Encourage independence

Encouraging independence will be very individual, depending on what your grandparent’s personality style is. Gently encouraging your grandparent to do some things on their own might make them feel less dependent and more empowered.

Obviously, you will want to take care not to suggest anything that compromises safety. 

6. Ask about your grandparent’s life

Remember that your grandparent was your age once! They had full, rich lives, raised families, and had careers. Another way to show respect is to ask about their experiences growing up. Most older people love to talk about their lives because it gives them a sense of identity and meaning when things have changed.

If there are family pictures, that can be a great way to get the conversation started. You might find you have more in common than you thought. 

7. Have a positive attitude

Few things can get in the way of a positive attitude. Your demeanor will set the tone for both of you. Try using uplifting phrases and encouragement. Let your grandparent know how much you care about them and appreciate the opportunity to provide care.

8. Be careful 

Many older people are quite frail and weak. As a younger person, your strength can be overpowering.

Use caution, especially when transferring someone from the bed to standing or a chair. Turning someone also needs to be done carefully since many older adults have fragile bones.

9. Be a teacher

This is where a grandchild can really shine. For an older person to stay connected to friends and family, they must be able to use technology, but some may feel uncomfortable doing so.

Teaching your grandparent how to use smartphones, computers, or tablets to stay connected can have enormous benefits. It will take time and patience to teach someone the skills they have never used. For you, it is easy and effortless so take things in small steps. 

Taking Care of an Aging Grandparent: Frequently Asked Questions

As you embark on this caregiving journey, you might have some questions about your duties and responsibilities. For example, if you can be paid and when it might be time to consider a higher level of care. 

Can you get paid to take care of an aging grandparent?

Under certain circumstances, you can get paid for taking care of a grandparent. If your grandparent is on Medicaid, state programs might qualify you to be paid as a family caregiver. Contact your Area Agency on Aging to find out.

The other possibility is if your grandparent is entitled to Veteran’s benefits. The program Aides and Attendance provides a monthly amount to the beneficiary that can be used to pay for caregivers. There are asset and income criteria to qualify.

The third option is for your grandparent to pay you directly. If you both decide on this arrangement, make sure you count the amount as income on your taxes. 

When do you know it’s time for an aging grandparent to receive a different level of care?

This is one of the hardest questions that all caregivers face. There are however some general guidelines to help you decide. Ensure that you discuss the possibility of a higher level of care with your grandparent so that the decision is mutual and everyone feels heard.

  • It is unsafe to continue providing care. Medical tasks might be too complex and require the help of a nurse.
  • Your grandparent needs two people to assist with transfers.
  • The home is not modified to accommodate a wheelchair or there are other safety issues like a tub bath or stairs.
  • The burden of caregiving is too much for you and your family to continue. If caregiving has taken a toll on your family, schooling, or career, it might be time to consider professional help or senior living.
  • Your grandparent is too difficult to care for or they refuse care.

Taking Care of Grandparents

Taking care of your grandparents is an honorable and compassionate thing to do, no matter what age you are. Caregiving is a job and journey that demands responsibility, care, and respect.

You will have the opportunity to learn and grow, but take care of yourself through the process and ask for help if you need it. Connecting with your grandparents is a very unique experience and something that can stay with you for a long time and something that can enrich both your life and theirs.

If you're looking for more on caregiving, read our guides on things you should never say to a caregiver and how to deal with caregiver resentment.


Sources

  1. Flinn, Brendan. “Millennials: The Emerging Generation of Family Caregivers.” AARP. 22 May 2018. www.aarp.org/ppi/info-2018/millennial-family-caregiving.html./
  2. “Find Help in Your Community by Entering Your Zip Code or City or State.”Eldercare Locator. eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx
  3. “Aide and Attendance Benefits and Household Allowance.” U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. www.va.gov/pension/aid-attendance-housebound/ 
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