When 67-year-old Gabriele LeMond left Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in March to visit her grandchildren in Boise, Idaho, she planned to stay two weeks.
But as COVID-19 spread across the country and the government recommended restricting discretionary travel, returning to Canada seemed out of the question.
"She certainly wasn't expecting to stay for three and a half months,” says LeMond's daughter Danielle Simone Brand, a writer and yoga instructor. But that's exactly what happened.
During that time, LeMond played a critical support role in the family, entertaining the children for blocks of time each day so that Brand and her husband could work.
"I took so much work off their hands,” LeMond says. “I don't know how they managed after I left.”
More socialization, less loneliness
Across the country, multigenerational living situations — whether spurred by the coronavirus pandemic or already in place — are making grandparents starring figures in family life. They're caring for grandchildren as parents work from home, helping with remote education, doing chores like cooking and yard work, and reading bedtime stories. The result is often a deeper relationship with members of the household.
"I got so much closer to my grandchildren and had so much fun,” LeMond says.
Older adults are benefitting from this multigenerational living environment, too. Research has shown that seniors who provide some care for their grandchildren had a 37 percent lower risk of death over a 20-year period, compared with those who didn't or older adults who weren't grandparents.
Ronan Factora, a geriatrician at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, says that older adults who moved in with family due to the pandemic might experience health benefits as a consequence. “You get a lot more socialization, and that social change reduces loneliness, which can lead to depression,” he says.
Factora adds that caring for children and sharing household responsibilities can improve well-being. “That sense of purpose — that is really a necessary part of living.”
Jennifer Shelton, a 75-year-old former school principal and academic consultant, says she experienced all of the above when she found herself extending a visit and unexpectedly living with her daughter and two grandsons in Ohio for two and a half months at the start of the pandemic.