Millennials and Generation Z are entering into caregiving roles. A new generation of caregivers is assisting their older and sick family members. According to a 2020 report, the average age of family carers (49.2 years old) has remained steady since 2015. The data also shows that 24 percent of informal caregivers are between 18 and 34. Most caregivers aged 18 to 49 care for a parent or in-law, and 17% care for grandparents or grandparents-in-law.
Why are grandchildren filling the primary caregiving role?
In the last few decades, there have been many changes to the makeup of families and households. A 2021 report from Generation United found that more than one in four Americans (26%) live in a home with three or more generations.
Many of these young caregivers grew up with their grandparents or were raised by them. Sometimes it’s because the grandchild is close to the grandparent and has a “caregiver personality.” in other cases, a grandchild is a primary caregiver because they live closer to the older adult than the rest of the family.
There are many reasons why a grandchild might become the primary caregiver for one or both grandparents. However, the main reason is usually that the grandparents’ adult children are not willing, able, or no longer alive to take on this role.
Significant Challenges facing younger caregivers
Caring for an older adult can be challenging. The average family caregiver has lived as an adult for a few decades and has a lot of knowledge and real-world experience.
However, most people who care for loved ones are 50 or older. They had a good time as teenagers and young adults. Eventually, they went to work, learned to care for themselves, married, and had kids.
Undoubtedly, most younger caregivers are wise for their age, but they still do not have life experiences. These experiences help guide others to understand the different ordeals of getting older. For example, how important it is to plan for the future legally and financially for the older adult. Or how to utilize our complicated health care or the ins and outs of government and private programs for seniors.
Caregivers in their 20s haven’t had a chance to create a network of colleagues or professional advisors like their older caregivers. These networks help guide in matters regarding caregiving and referrals to helpful resources.
A grandchild who takes care of Grandma or Grandpa may also be working, going to school, or both. At this young age, being a caregiver may not have even been a thought. However, unlike their peers, their “extra” time is taken up by tasks. These tasks include managing medications, helping with activities of daily living (ADLs), driving to doctor’s appointments, preparing meals, doing laundry, and spending quality time with their grandparent(s).
These young caregivers go through the same constant emotional ups and downs that older caregivers find exhausting. Unfortunately, younger caregivers do not have as many peers who understand them and can help support them.
Isolation and Burnout
Isolation is often the result of, “Sorry, Grandma needs me.” Others stop coming around, and caregiving affects attendance and concentration, leading many to drop school or struggle to work. Younger caregivers are particularly vulnerable to caregiver burnout.
The process of obtaining and finding respite care can be even more draining. Most of the time, grandchildren find themselves in this role because their grandparents have few or no family and friends to depend on and won’t look for other ways to get help. 58% of Generation X caregivers feel they had no choice in assuming the role.
Carrying such a heavy load can be very discouraging for caregivers of any age. And yet having little or no real say in care decisions that affect their lives and their ability to help their loved ones is exhausting. Younger caregivers may also have to deal with more opposition and less cooperation when caring for a grandparent.
Grandparents may appreciate the help and company a grandchild gives them every day. They might not take their grandchild seriously regarding important things like legal and financial planning or health care decisions. Older adults don’t often listen to their grown children when they advise them to consider estate planning, think about giving up driving or consult a doctor. So taking orders from someone two generations younger doesn’t seem like a great idea.
A grandchild can find a better balance in life. This balance may be found by hiring in-home care or taking a grandparent to adult daycare facilities. Even trying to get their grandparents to move into a senior living facility or nursing home. However, all of these options come with their challenges. Their older loved one might not have enough money to cover these costs, or they might refuse to pay for their care. Resulting in a tough choice: either get by on their own or find a way to pay for these costs.
Young adults who have just started working usually don’t have any savings to fall back on, and taking money from their income to pay for respite care can hurt their financial situation. Ask any middle-aged person who takes care of a loved one: it can take years to get back on track after paying for these things. Many people never recover enough to save for their retirement and long-term care.
Youth should be spent pursuing aspirations, gaining experience, establishing friendships, and planning for the future. Whether they opted for this role or feel obligated to care for their grandparent(s), it’s critical to remember that young caregivers’ needs and aspirations are essential as well. Their older loved ones have already had the opportunity to enjoy this important time in their lives and should want their grandchildren to do the same. Young caregivers shouldn’t let shame, embarrassment, or fear keep them from seeking assistance. It is doable to learn to manage caregiving and their own life with the appropriate support and guidance. Next week we will explore resources for younger caregivers.