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As more kids live with grandparents, seniors' health suffers

Statistics show that more and more Pennsylvania families are comprised of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. This trend comes as a result of a number of factors, including a sluggish economy that has left many parents unable to care for their own children. In other cases, drugs, mental illness or criminal convictions have left children without a functioning parent, and the grandparents have stepped into this role out of love and concern for their grandchildren. No matter how a child has come to live with grandparents, this type of family unit has a number of unique needs and challenges.

One issue involves the health of the caretaker(s). The challenges of keeping up with children can be taxing on any parent, and especially so for grandparents who are in their later years. It can quickly become overwhelming for a grandparent to assume all care for a child. Children present different challenges at every stage of their development, and it can be just as mentally exhausting to worry over a teenager as it is physically tiring to run after a toddler.

Recent research shows that for many grandparents in this situation, health issues arise that can be directly tied to the caregiving responsibilities they have assumed for their grandchildren. Among the aggravating factors that can affect a senior's health are sleep deprivation, stress, and exhaustion. In addition, when caring for their grandchildren, many grandparents place their own health needs behind the needs of the kids, and postpone doctor's visits and treatment for illnesses.

In addition to the impact on one's health, grandparents who are raising their grandchildren also face a number of legal issues. When children live with grandparents outside of a formal custody agreement or order, there is always the risk that one of the parents will decide to take the kids back to live with them. This could not only lead to a negative living situation for the children, but could also greatly affect the stress level of the grandparent caregiver. By approaching the Pennsylvania courts to gain legal custody of the children, grandparents can ensure that they will retain the legal right to raise those children, which can greatly reduce stress for all involved.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Raising grandchildren can be hard on grandparents' health," Deborah L. Shelton, Dec. 31, 2012

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