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FAMILIES Grandparents' role as a caregiver is growing

Monday, January 20, 2003

Being the primary caregiver can have both positive and negative effects.
The majority of households in the United States that include a grandparent and one or more grandchildren are ones that also include one or both of the parents of the grandchildren.
But among households with grandparents and grandchildren, the fastest growing type is one without either parent of the grandchildren. This means a grandparent is the sole caregiver of the grandchild or grandchildren.
How does being the caregiver affect the physical and mental well being of the grandparent? A number of researchers have studied this in recent years.
You might expect that being a caregiver exhausts and strains the physical resources of the grandparent, possibly causing health problems.
Whether that's true or not, isn't clear. Some researchers have reported health problems that appear to arise from being a stressed caregiver. Others have found little, if any, effect on the health of a grandparent. Still others have found little difference in physical health between grandmothers who are single caregivers and grandmothers who live alone and are not caregivers.
Grandmothers who serve as surrogate mothers have been of special interest. Many are widowed or divorced, and are the sole caregiver. Even when both grandparents share the responsibility for a grandchild, it is usually the grandmother who is the primary caregiver.
Negative consequences
There do seem to be some negative consequences for grandmothers -- symptoms of depression tend to increase for many of them in the early stages of care giving. But long-term care giving is unlikely to result an increase of those symptoms.
Both grandmothers and grandfathers express lower satisfaction with their lives early in care giving, but that feeling is unlikely to increase as the care giving goes on.
Church attendance often decreases when care giving begins, as does socializing with friends and neighbors.
On the other hand, support from friends and neighbors -- helping with daily chores such as shopping and doctors' visits -- tends to be enhanced. There is also a tendency for grandfathers to increase their visits to the local bar or tavern after the arrival of a grandchild in need of care giving.
The health of grandmothers, and the extent of the burden they experience, can produce positive and negative effects. The effect will be positive if the grandmother's health is maintained at a high enough level, and if the care giving burden is manageable. Poor health and an excessive burden are likely to yield negative effects.
Also important is the relationship grandmothers have with the parents of the child now under their care. The better the quality of that relationship, the more satisfied grandmothers are likely to be.
There is a manual to train grandparent who are caregivers titled "Empowering Grandparent Raising Grandchildren: A Training Manual for Group Leaders." The author is Dr. Carole B. Cox, and the publisher is Springer.