Millennials, Welcome to Caregiving!

You've probably heard of the "sandwich generation" — people who are providing care for children as well as older relatives. Many baby boomers, once in the middle of the sandwich, now are in need of care themselves, and it's the millennials who are being sandwiched … and more of them are holding down a full-time job, as well.

Senior woman sitting with her daughter and granddaughter

Pundits predicted that the millennial generation (commonly defined as those born between 1980 and 1996, who are now aged 22 – 38) would be less likely to provide care for older loved ones. But the stereotypes aren't proving to be true.

"Many hear the word 'millennial' and think of someone with a 'me-first' mentality, but that's not the case for one in three millennials who provide care to loved ones," reports Bruce Chernof, CEO of the SCAN Foundation. "Millennial caregivers could not be more different from that stereotype. They are selfless — forgoing school and career goals, relationships and social connections to take care of family and friends in unprecedented numbers. They need our support, not our stereotypes."

According to a May 2018 report from the AARP, 25 percent of caregivers today are millennials. A recent survey performed by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 17 percent of adults under 40 are now caring for an older loved one, and another 19 percent did so in the past. Another 34 percent say they expect to become caregivers in the future. What challenges are the millennials facing as they step into this role?

Their parents are living longer. People born in the early 20th century could expect to live, on average, into their 60s. Today, the average lifespan hovers around 79, and many baby boomers will live into their 80s, 90s and beyond. But more often than not, those extra years are marked by health challenges. Physical disabilities and sensory loss may make it hard to live independently. The risk of memory loss also rises with age; experts from the University of Southern California Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging recently reported that one in six millennial caregivers provides care for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia.

There are and will be fewer caregivers to go around. Statistics show that almost half of millennial caregivers are going it alone, serving as sole caregiver for their loved one. Demographers note that no generation in history will have as many seniors to care for! This is not surprising; as the nickname "baby boomers" implies, there were lots of kids in that generation! But the boomers didn't, in turn, have large families. Other factors figure in: A higher divorce rate leaves millennial caregivers asking, "I'm providing care for Mom in San Francisco — what if Dad in Florida gets sick, too?" To top it off, millennials are a mobile generation, more likely to have moved far away from the loved ones who now need care.

Millennials face challenges in the workplace. The AARP reports that the average millennial caregiver provides 20 hours per week of care. These caregivers also are more likely to be holding down a full-time job while caregiving — at least 75 percent of them do. Yet because they are younger, millennials may meet with skepticism and a lack of understanding from their employers.

They face financial challenges. Many millennials are coping with student loans and high housing costs. On top of that, the costs of care — both out of pocket and resulting from interruptions in their career — can be steep. The AARP estimates that caregivers spend close to $7,000 per year on caregiving costs; for millennial caregivers, that’s 27 percent of their average income! The American Heart Association recently projected that cardiovascular disease alone will cost family caregivers upwards of $10,000 annually within the next few decades.

Their parents want to stay home. The parents of the baby boomers were more likely to move to a nursing home or other supportive senior environment, but the boomers overwhelmingly express a preference for "aging in place," whether that's their long-time home, a smaller place, or with their adult children. Rather than receive services from a senior care facility, they want this care at home. Families find themselves scrambling to cobble together services to make this happen.

If you are serving as a caregiver at present, or you have older loved ones who might need care in the future, here are things to think about right now:

Take care of your own health. Caregiving can be one of the most stressful situations you can find yourself in, and stress harms the body in many ways, raising the risk of diabetes, obesity, digestive problems and even dementia. The American Heart Association projects that as the millennials begin to turn 45, close to half of them will be living with cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure. So while you're helping your loved one stay healthy, don't neglect your own wellness routine.

Connect with others. It's important to educate yourself about your loved one's health conditions and the services that are available. Network with fellow caregivers in support groups, online affinity organizations or Facebook groups. There are plenty of information sources, but "in the trenches" advice also offers a powerful emotional boost.

Learn about services that can help your loved one … and you. Your local senior services agency can put you in touch with senior support services — supportive housing for seniors whose care needs are great, to home-provided meals and senior centers for those living at home. Experts say millennial caregivers will push the envelope of techo-caregiving as well, taking advantage of senior ride-sharing apps, online grocery shopping, senior-monitoring systems, advanced communication options, even robots.

Check out home care services. If your loved one prefers to receive care at home, skilled nursing services can be provided in that setting. And at a more modest cost, nonmedical home care services provide respite for caregivers, while delivering a tailored suite of services for your loved one's needs — personal care such as bathing, dressing and grooming; transportation; meal preparation; medication reminders; housekeeping and laundry; and companionship. Professional caregivers can be there when you can't. Be sure to hire from a reputable, reliable agency. If your loved one has Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder, choose a caregiver with dementia-care training.

Share the load. Even in families with several children, one often ends up filling the role of head caregiver. If this is you, sooner rather than later, talk with your parents, siblings and any other family members who could help. It might be that others can share caregiving tasks, even those who live at a distance. Provide information about the cost of the care you provide, as well. This is no time to avoid talking about money! Certain skilled nursing and rehabilitation services are covered by Medicare or private insurance, but many are not. By chipping in, many families can pay for the care that keeps their loved one safe and comfortable while protecting the health and career of the primary caregiver.

Find more information and support for millennial caregivers

Read the "Millennials: The Emerging Generation of Family Caregivers" report on the AARP website.

The University of Southern California Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging website offers "Millennials and Dementia Caregiving" web resources and the full "Millennials and Dementia Caregiving in the United States" report. 

Visit the SCAN Foundation's "Do You Give a Care?" website to find information and a community of millennial caregivers.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.