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Older Adult Populations Serving as Caregivers

According to the 2022 American Community Survey, 6,928,281 grandparents live with their own grandchildren under 18 years of age, of which 32.4% are responsible for caring for their grandchildren. In rural areas, 1,467,315 of grandparents live with grandchildren under 18, of which 42.1% (617,180 total) are responsible for their care.

A program called Project Healthy Grandparents (PHG) was established by Georgia State University to address the needs of older adults as caregivers. This project found that grandparents assume the role of primary caregiver when the biological parent is unable due to substance abuse, incarceration, or death. The grandparents involved in this project have faced many of the same health problems that other older adults face, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, poor nutrition, arthritis, and psychological problems. They also reported high levels of psychological distress and feelings of isolation. In general, many caregivers experience stress as a result of insufficient financial support, adjustments to their work schedule, declining personal health, and increased rates of depression and anxiety. Therefore, it is critical to address the needs of older adult caregivers, as poor health will impact their ability to care for custodial children.

In order to ensure that all children receive the best possible care, older adults acting as caregivers may benefit from services such as:

  • Case management
  • Referrals to health resources
  • Support groups
  • Assistance with caring for children who had prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol
  • Home visits from a healthcare worker
  • Psychological counseling to reduce stress
  • Problem solving training

Select states also offer respite services such as in-home child care and resources, including financial assistance, for eligible grandparent caregivers. Since caregivers provide the first level of care for their loved ones, it is critical to support their role through integrated health and human services.

Services integration programs can help older adults to access the services they need. For instance, programs can assist older adults with enrolling in public assistance programs. Rural services integration programs that involve a one-stop shop for health and human services improve access to services by reducing the amount of travel to and from different providers.

Resources to Learn More

Elder Health in Rural America
This NRHA policy brief provides an overview and brief analysis of the current status of rural communities, rural elder health, policy, and practice, and suggests guidance/recommendations for future policy based on a systems approach.
Author(s): Hartman, R. & Weierbach, F.
Organization(s): National Rural Health Association
Date: 2/2013

The Health Status and Unique Health Challenges of Rural Older Adults in California
This policy brief examines the health of rural elders and, by contrast, their urban counterparts, and finds that both groups are more likely to be unhealthy than suburban older adults.
Author(s): Durazo, E., Jones, M., Wallace, S., Van Arsdale, J., Aydin, M., & Stewart, C.
Organization(s): UCLA Center for Health Policy Research
Date: 6/2011

Project Healthy Grandparents
Project Healthy Grandparents (PHG) was established in 1995 by Georgia State University to strengthen intergenerational families and to improve their quality of life by providing grandparents and grandchildren with comprehensive services and improve access to community resources.
Organization(s): Georgia State University