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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Older adults face challenges with family support

STILLWATER, Okla. – There is no getting around the fact we all grow older. Whether we do so gracefully is another matter.

For older Oklahomans, three of the toughest hurdles to contentment in the golden years include the challenge of grandparents raising their grandkids, creating a solid caregiving network and figuring out how to navigate a seemingly confusing maze of resources aimed at an aging population.

As the nation celebrates Older Americans Month in May, it is the perfect time to explore these issues, said Whitney Bailey, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension caregiving and end of life specialist.

“Bringing attention to these challenges can empower older adults and their families to make informed decisions,” she said.

In Oklahoma, more than 43,200 grandparents are the householders and responsible for their grandkids living with them, and 100,213 Oklahoma children under 18 live in homes where their grandparents or other relatives are the householders (10.8 percent of youth in the state), according to an AARP GrandFacts state fact sheet.

“There are many emotional ups and downs associated with grandfamilies, or families in which grandparents are raising their grandchildren,” said Jan Johnston, OSU Cooperative Extension adulthood and aging specialist. “It can run the gamut from satisfaction and comfort to fear, guilt and anger. It can be a difficult situation but also a rewarding one.”

For local programs that can offer support and resources for these grandfamilies, Johnston suggested checking local schools, area agencies on aging, faith-based organizations and children’s services offices.

Other possible sources of assistance include the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Aging Services Division (, click the link for aging services and select “grandfamilies”) and AARP (

A second key issue for older Americans involves family support through life, including family caregiving.

“So many families put off this very important discussion until their older loved one is no longer able to express their wishes,” said Johnston. “But, having those conversations when older adults are able to have input is truly powerful.”

It also is crucial that caregivers are educated and empowered in their roles.

So many caregivers find themselves providing care for long periods of time, often years, without understanding how to do anything other than react to each crisis, Bailey said. The idea is to prepare caregivers for the responsibility and make sure they are fully supported.

A recent AARP Oklahoma study revealed 94.4 percent of likely Oklahoma voters agreed that having designated and wellinstructed family caregivers could help patients stay in their homes longer, delaying or altogether avoiding placement in a more costly assisted living facility or nursing home.

“While we understand the critical need for such facilities in the care continuum, many Oklahomans prefer to and can live in their homes. Well-supported and well-informed caregivers are key to this arrangement. Caregivers are stepping up, and always have. Education professionals need to step up, too, and help prepare them for this long-term role.”

Finally, a third important issue for older adults is that many older adults and caregivers know they need help, but they don’t know exactly where to start in terms of securing that assistance,” she said.

One helpful resource is the Senior Info Line. By calling the toll-free number (800-211-2116), any older adult or caregiver in Oklahoma is routed to the Area Agency on Aging nearest to their location. The Department of Human Services, Aging Services Division, provides a number of programs and services through local providers. Visit the website for additional details.

For more information on issues related to older adults, contact your local county Extension office.


Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
140 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078