Millennials are Emerging as a Generation of Caregivers

Q. My name is Kelsey, and I’m a junior in college. I lived on campus my first year but ended up moving back home when I learned that my mother needed caregiving help. College tuition is costly and so is caregiving, so I figured that I would save money on housing and having to hire an in-home caregiver if I lived with my mother and assumed the role myself.

My college years aren’t characterized by sorority parties, study abroad opportunities, or bonding with dorm-mates. Instead, they are spent caring for my two-time cancer survivor, hip replacement recipient mother suffering from early-stage Alzheimer’s. Driving her to and from doctor’s appointments, preparing meals, giving her medication, and ensuring post-op physical therapy compliance is what dominates my collegiate experience.

I submitted an absence slip to my English professor recently, notifying him of my anticipated week-long leave when my mother’s hip surgery was scheduled. Upon reading the request, the professor scoffed, “In all my years of teaching, I’ve heard a lot of excuses, but this is a new one.” I ended up having to “prove” my caregiver status and corresponding surgery dates just to prevent being penalized for the absence.

I don’t regret a thing about the role I chose to assume. My mother had me later in life and sacrificed everything for me as a single mom. I truly want to give back. But I admit, sometimes it’s hard. Am I the only millennial out there with caregiver responsibilities? Is there any help available for someone like me?

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A. Kelsey – Although you may feel alone, you definitely are not. In fact, there are millions out there like you. What you are doing is commendable, and you should feel good about your decision to assist your mother when she needs you most.

Contrary to what many believe, stepping up and taking care of ill, disabled, or elderly family members has become the new normal for millennials. The latest Millennial Caregiver Report from the National Alliance of Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute which was recently released, shows that millennials (ages 18–34) make up nearly a quarter of the approximately 44 million caregivers in the United States, and the numbers are expected to keep rising. By the year 2033, Bloomberg predicts working-age Americans (millennials) will support more people over 64 than under 18.  

The majority of millennial caregivers provide assistance without paid help, greatly contributing to the estimated $470 billion worth of unpaid care provided by family caregivers. 

Finding Balance in Your Life

As you likely know, finding balance in your life isn’t easy. Your early twenties is an ideal time period to begin a stable career path, choose romantic partners, and prepare for major milestones ahead. Young caregivers regularly find themselves putting off these important milestones due to demanding caregiving duties. This often means young caregivers have a delayed start for their own adult lives. Seeking assistance is one way that you can do some of the things you want to do, while still caring for your mother.

Help for Millennial Caregivers

Below are some things millennials should know regarding caregiving, which can often be emotionally and physically demanding:

· Connect online with caregivers your age: You can be honest about your feelings in support groups and learn from others in similar situations. See today’s Critter Corner for links to different online support groups, including Facebook groups, for caregiving millennials.

· Feed your soul and replenish your energy tank: Prioritize activities that provide emotional, mental, and physical “recharge.” There are a variety of options out there for every budget and schedule: cooking, exercise, journaling, meditation, music, reading, stretching, walking, etc. By identifying a few recharge activities that feed your soul, you can help replenish your own energy tank and in turn, have more to give your mother.

· Plan for the financial part, as you are getting older, too. Organizations including the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org/) and the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (www.wiserwomen.org/) provide resources to help millennial caregivers prepare for long-term financial sustainability.

· Know your rights: Millennials who are trying to get started in their careers while also caregiving, may need to take time off of work. If you do or if you’re late for work, your caregiving may be starting to impact the role you have. Different states have different laws protecting caregivers from discrimination. You can find more about your rights on AARP’s website (www.aarp.org/caregiving/).

Technology for Millennial Caregivers

If you want to be a truly effective caregiver, you have to remember to put yourself first sometimes. Self-care is critical because if you’re too focused on your mother’s care, you may neglect your own needs and burn out. Get plenty of rest and take breaks, when possible. Utilizing technology can also be helpful in enjoying your life and taking care of yourself.

· Use ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft  if you are not available and your mother needs a ride to a doctor’s appointment. For those willing to trust them, ride-sharing services can help fill some of the gaps in transportation for an older adult who can no longer drive—so the adult child doesn’t have to.

· Other services under the umbrella of the sharing economy can also serve to fill other instrumental tasks that are commonly done by unpaid caregivers. such as: Taskrabbit, HouseCall, Thumbtack or Hello Alfred (for home maintenance and other household tasks); Amazon Fresh, Peapod, or Instacart (for grocery shopping and delivery); Rinse for laundry and dry cleaning if it’s available in your area. For a caregiver who finds time to be at a major premium, these services could be a lifesaver.

· Consider downloading the Stop, Breathe, & Think app (it’s free!) to help you recharge.

· Turning on and off the lights etc.: There is so much that can be done these days using Amazon Echo and Google Home. Your mother can play music, make calls, set music alarms and timers, ask questions, control smart home devices, and more, if you need a break. You can purchase the Echo at Amazon.com or the Google Home at https://store.google.com/.
· Monitoring systems: For care recipients who have greater needs and vulnerabilities, a home monitoring system provides peace of mind and a way to catch emergencies before they turn into crises. Some systems involve cameras that see into the home; others utilize sensors to catch a fall or warning signs of one and transmit that information to a care provider.

· Robots will soon be central to providing care. Telepresence robots can give a caregiver who cannot always be present physical freedom of movement and presence in a recipient’s home.

What Else Needs to Be Done

Our society needs millennials to continue to provide care and millennial caregivers need societal support, but similar to other caregivers, they aren’t getting much. Revising FMLA to be more protective of young professionals tasked with caregiver responsibilities and student loan forgiveness programs for caregivers experiencing joblessness or underemployment are two places changes can be made.

When Aging-in-Place is no Longer the Best Option

Most people want to stay in their home for as long as possible. However, if your mother can no longer live independently and is showing signs that living alone is a strain, it may be time to consider other alternatives.

Whether the outcome is assisted living or nursing home care in the future, it is always wise to plan ahead. Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into assisted living or nursing home care, while also helping ensure that you and your loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. While your mother still has her wits about her, please contact us to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation, and start planning today:

Fairfax Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 540-479-143
Rockville Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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