Multigenerational Family Households – Are They Harmful to Seniors’ Health?

Growing up I remember how much I enjoyed going to my grandparents. We visited often and they lived nearby until my teen years.  They were both so special to me.

I loved exploring their yard as a child back in the days when kids were free to roam. All the kids loved going and spending time with the grandparents.

Now many families have decided – some out of necessity – to live together with multiple generations under one roof. Whether it is to ease everyone’s finances or to make caring for both children and senior adults easier, most find living together as a big family a great experience.

This is the epitome of the triple decker sandwich, from the perspective of the family caregivers, that we have discussed in earlier posts.

I wonder what it would have been like having my grandparents living with me. I know that my kids would have liked their grandparents to have been closer to them growing up since both sides of the family lived a long distance away from us.

A recent report published in the Wall Street Journal explored the present day living arrangements of multigenerational families and what effects this lifestyle has on our senior adults’ health and well-being.

Family Impacts of Multigeneration Households

Gallup Data and Healthways developed a well-being index based on the findings of their study. These are some of their key findings.

  • Elderly people living with children under the age of 18 surveyed report inferior living situations and worse emotional health than those not living with children.
  • Those elders living in multigenerational households were likely to be in a poorer state of health and/or have impaired finances.
  • Researchers noted that self-assessments found elders reported less happiness and enjoyment as well as more stress, worry, and anger.
  • US Census reports that in 2010 four percent of families lived with three or more generations in the household with those numbers quickly rising.

Family Interactions and Duties

Looking at the report prepared by the researchers, it seems that it is not uncommon for American multigenerational family households to include some unhappy older adults.  As we discuss often, it is the choice of many older adults to age in place in a home of their choosing instead of a facility, though maybe we can qualify that based on this study to say perhaps not with children.

The researchers indicate that dealing with the common occurrences associated with living with children such as noise, activity and irregular schedules, led to a feeling of unhappiness and decreased health in older adults.

The constraints of the multifamily home, including cramped space and the clutter from young children, often contributed to a sense of stress among older adults who may have been accustomed to a calmer atmosphere prior to living within this new family dynamic.

What Family Caregivers Can Do

  1. Openly, honestly and frankly discuss all scenarios of life in a multigenerational household with everyone involved, with topics including finances, meals, cleaning schedule, and other day to day duties prior to making the move.
  2. Clearly describe the living conditions to the senior adult. Will they have a basement apartment, granny pod, or small bedroom without bathroom access? Will they have their own kitchenette or share the kitchen? Who makes meals and cleans dishes? Will there be toys in the hallways or clutter creating an ongoing trip hazard?
  3. Will they be included in family outings and entertainment to reduce their boredom and loneliness? Do they want to be? Will they be able to maintain their own community relationships and lifelong friendships? How will they get transportation to wherever they wish to go?
  4. Does everyone agree? Are there going to be disagreements among family members, especially teens or others? How will you solve these disagreements? What is the plan for open communication?
  5. Will they be responsible for a lot or a little babysitting? Do they want to? Are they capable?
  6. Are there pets in the household or can they bring their own pets? Is everyone willing to care for the family pets?

These are just a few examples of conversations and agreements that families should consider before they move in together. As our population ages, it is likely that the number of multigenerational families will continue to grow. This is most often an effective strategy for the care of both the elders and the children as the group contributes to the duties required.

It is important that family caregivers remain observant for any signs of unhappiness or diminished health when they have seniors in their home. Reacting quickly and finding solutions to whatever may be causing the poor outcomes for seniors will make it easier to keep the family unit healthy and happy!

1 thought on “Multigenerational Family Households – Are They Harmful to Seniors’ Health?”

  1. Interesting survey results.

    It sounds counter-intuitive, but I guess the extra stress of having young kids in the house can affect the health and well-being of older people living there.

    Thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.