The U.S. Census Bureau reports the number of people reaching ninety has nearly tripled over the past three decades. As the aging population increases longevity, more opportunities abound for adult grandchildren to participate in the care of their grandparents. In so doing, they can bring love and meaning to the grandparent-grandchild relationship and instill memories they will carry forever.
Kyle Hill is among a younger generation of caregivers who participated in the care of a grandparent. “I was pretty heavily involved in the process of helping my father find care for my grandmother,” says Hill, founder of HomeHero.org, a California-based, non-medical home-care provider that leverages smart technology and human compassion into the caregiving experience.
A Dual-Faceted Relationship
Hill has observed two facets of a family caregiving relationship. One is the logistic relationship, in which the family member takes care of all the organizational and healthcare aspects of caregiving. The other is the compassionate relationship, in which you form a meaningful bond with your loved one. Hill stresses the importance of not letting the logistical relationship rob you of the beneficial aspects of the compassionate relationship.
“I had a lot of involvement with my grandmother—finding care, screening caregivers, reimbursing the long-term care insurance—and while that logistical side of the relationship is important, it doesn’t contribute to the actual relationship I had with her,” Hill says. “It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, I’m really involved with my grandmother. I have services provided for her…’ But that’s not contributing to the actual relationship and fulfilling your grandparent’s need for companionship.”
In terms of the logistical side, Hill came up with innovative, technological solutions to manage in-home caregiving for his grandmother. The caregiving situation was challenging because Hill lived in Santa Monica, his grandmother lived in Seattle, and his father lived in Columbus, Ohio. This made it more difficult to monitor the comings and goings of the professional caregivers. Using his technological background and expertise, Hill devised a clock-in system, in which the in-home caregivers clocked in and out using a landline, and every time they did so, his father would receive a text message. This information generated a timesheet that allowed Hill’s father to pay electronically for caregiving services.
Building such innovative solutions, coupled with the experience of caring for his grandmother, prompted Hill to explore the creation of HomeHero and grow it into the streamlined home-care provider it is today. Hill’s grandmother, Flavor Bell Hibbler Booker, was HomeHero’s first client—and remained a client until she died peacefully in September at the age of ninety-nine.
While the logistical assistance was important, Hill remembers the personal relationship with his grandmother most. “I had a very good relationship with her,” Hill says. “Even though we lived in different cities, I visited her in Seattle three or four times a year. It was important to her to be constantly surrounded with family. She loved having a full house. It gave her a sense of purpose.”
If you live far away and can’t visit your grandparent often, it’s important to get your next visit scheduled on the calendar, Hill advises, something that was beneficial in the relationship between he and his grandmother. “Whenever I talked to her on the phone, she would always ask, ‘When are you coming to visit?’ I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I’d give her an estimate like, ‘Probably sometime in November.’ Then she’d go to her calendar and circle the date, so I’d say to myself, ‘Looks like I’m going to Seattle in November.’ But it was important. She needed something to look forward to.”
Hill believes that providing companionship to his grandmother helped in her well-being. “I read a report recently from Brigham Young University, which showed that loneliness was more of a predictor of death than obesity,” he reports. If you are concerned about helping your elderly grandparent thrive in their later years, Hill advises that giving your loved one constant “companionship and friendship” is one of the most important things you can do.
A Team Approach
Adult grandchildren can be partners in their grandparents’ care, helping their parents or other family members so the care doesn’t fall on one person. In Hill’s case, this was especially important since his father was an only child. “It often takes a team effort,” he says.
Often, the team includes more than just family members. Professional caregivers can become a form of extended family: “The value of a caregiver, in my mind, is that he or she can take care of the more personal issues, such as personal hygiene, dressing, and bathing,” Hill explains. “Your grandparent may prefer this be handled by someone who isn’t a family member, so rather than seeing them in [moments] where they might be embarrassed, you can focus your time on making happy memories.”
Preserve the Memories
In looking back at his grandmother’s life, Hill marvels at how much history she witnessed in her ninety-nine years.
“My grandmother lived through World War I, World War II, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, 9/11, all the way up to voting for our first black president,” Hill says. “I asked her, ‘Did you ever imagine that we would ever have a black president?’ and she said that was unheard of. For her to have watched that evolution throughout her life is amazing.”
Hill’s advice to adult grandchildren? Take time to learn more about their grandparents’ lives and histories. “One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t ask more questions. Instead of going for a visit and just watching a movie together, ask them about their history and learn about their past.”
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