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02 Nov 2016

The increasing pressures of the grandparent generation

Life for working, 'caring' septuagenarians is becoming as hectic as their salaried years.

Older people used to look forward to a well earned retirement, doing less of the things they had to do and enjoying more leisure and 'me' time.

Usually activities on the retirees' list of fun are travelling, learning new hobbies, enjoying sport or relaxing with friends and family. Sadly for some, this is becoming a bit of a pipe dream.

Grandparents are now finding themselves sandwiched between child-minding for the extended family, as well as caring for their own vulnerable parents who may be well advanced in years. Add financial constraints they didn't budget for and suddenly the golden autumn years are looking decidedly wintery.

Dr Debora Price, director of the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing points out that "eight out of 10 grandmothers in England with a grandchild under 16 have a parent who is still alive. As those parents age, their needs potentially become greater. At the same time, their children, already grandparents, are ageing too, while also being expected to work and save."

The norm used to be that once the children had grown up, flown the nest and settled into jobs and relationships, the years thereafter were anticipated as less demanding and certainly not burdensome. Yet unforeseen pressures are now bearing down on this 'sandwich generation', both financial and care.

The new role of child-minder/financial provider/carer has seen some forced to return to work in order to supplement a modest pension so that they can help out their own family. In some cases it is helping provide the financial support for a single parent grandchild who is struggling to cope or unable to pay off university debt.

The high cost of housing has also meant that young people are finding it impossible to afford the deposit for their first home. Enter Granny and Grandpa. Those with property may go down the route of Equity Release, selling off chunks of the family inheritance in order to help the grandchildren get their foot on the property ladder.

So the pressures are rising for a certain strata of the older population. Longer life expectancy too is bringing its own demands and the number of filial carers is rising, with the '70 somethings' fulfilling the role of full or part time carer for their '90 something' parents. Age UK reports that since 2001 the number of carers aged 75 years plus has increased by 35% with the numbers continuing to rise.

Further complications arise when the health of the 'grandparent carer' or their spouse starts to fail, yet their obligation to care for their parents continues. It is not unlikely that both aged parent and carer develop some form of dementia, a scenario which is already occurring in some households.

There are no easy answers here but what is clear is the need for working adults in their 50s onwards to realise that retirement may not be the long awaited rest just a few years hence. With increasing demands on an already crippled social care sector, the future is looking very uncertain for many people. That rosy retirement which looks to be just over the horizon, may for some be a very long way off indeed.
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