Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy

Prior to the Pandemic Baby Boomers were the majority of caregivers in the United States.  The latest US Census information now reflects that 11 million people aged 18-34 are caregivers.  It is estimated that millennial caregivers will soon surpass the number of boomer caregivers.  In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 2 million children between the ages of 8 and 18 are also responsible for the care of an elder relative.  These statistics drastically change the landscape for many young people with responsibility.

When it became evident that the US would be in lockdown during the pandemic, many families brought their elderly parents to live with them.  Parents who were in senior care facilities or living independently became part of multi-generation households.  At the same time millennials were becoming caregivers, they were working remotely, and often they were teachers for children trying to navigate remote learning.  The household situations were often chaos and confusion.

The term family caregiving took on a new meaning as younger households became responsible for elder relatives.  There weren’t enough hours in a day to juggle all the responsibilities.  From the traditional role of providing emotional support role for a parent living independently or in a senior facility, millennials were now required to provide health and medical care at home, navigate a complicated and fragmented health care service industry and be the surrogate for legal complications.  Millennial families were not prepared for the endurance requirements of being family caregivers in addition to the other stressors during the pandemic.  Households were indeed learning to cope as life unfolded.

Once the Pandemic was deemed over many families discovered they don’t have the financial resources to return their loved ones back to a senior care facility.  The average monthly cost of assisted living is near $10,000 monthly with skilled nursing facilities $12,000 and up.  The average cost for a couple is nearly $17,000 monthly.  Those are staggering numbers for an average family to digest.  Consequently, the multi-generational family is fast becoming the norm in the United States.  Many families are opting to combine resources and move ingo bigger homes with dual living quarters for seniors.  Life has changed. 

What sets this new generation of caregivers apart from their older counterparts?  According to AARP:

  1. Millennials are the most diverse generation of caregivers based on race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.  They are more often have lower median incomes than the older caregiver. Typically, they care for a parent or grandparent who is less than 60 years old who has both long-and-short-term physical conditions as well as emotional/mental health issues.  The boomer caregiver cares for a much older family member.
  2. Millennial caregivers have been providing care for less than 3 years.  They spend an average of 25 hours a week caring for someone with moderate-to-high intensity care situations.  Half are unpaid caregivers and very few report having paid help.
  3. The average millennial caregiver also has a full-time job outside the home.  Many fail to report their caregiving role to a supervisor and often receive a warning about their performance or attendance at work.  More recently, supervisors who know of the dual responsibilities are willing to allow millennial caregivers flexibility to work from home.  The younger caregivers report high levels of financial strain as a result of caregiving.  They leave bills unpaid, take on more debt, borrow from family members, and often cannot afford food in this economy.
  4. Caregiving is highly emotional and stressful for millennial caregivers.  About half feel they had no choice except to become a caregiver.  They are the least likely to report having health insurance. 
  5. Millennial caregivers are more interested than older caregivers in finding help or information about managing the situation and their finances.  Social media is their caregiving lifeline. They have difficulty finding affordable services and rely heavily on social media for support, information, and options.  Unlike the older caregivers, millennial caregivers are less likely to just figure out situations on their own.

In my book, One Caregiver’s Journey, I repeatedly mention how a key to caregiving is the need to be patient.  Elderly relatives want to be included in conversations and millennial caregivers often are annoyed by the tendencies of elder relatives to repeat events of many years ago.  I am sure AARP has data but declines to report my observations that millennial caregivers lack patience and miss social interactions with their counterparts more than the boomer caregiver. Unfortunately, this translates into missing opportunities to learn about our ancestors and their lives.  Primary to their existence is the need to navigate multiple social media sites looking for respite, or advice on how to navigate a challenging situation.  One of their chief complaints is that when they are seeking medical care for their loved one, they also want physicians to be interested in their health.  The medical profession has not routinely sought to care for family members at the same time as elderly patients.

I was part of a social media caregiving site for a short period of time.  It became apparent that many of the “tribe” were looking for advice and others were giving it freely.  One particular millennial caregiver indicated her mother’s repetitive dementia was so annoying and disturbing she began to think of harming her mother.  The advice from followers was predominantly that she should seek therapy to help cope.  I could only think of who was going to sit with mom while she sat on the couch crying of her predicament.  My advice was that it was ok to admit perhaps caregiving was not an ideal choice for her.  There is no shame in admitting caregiving is too difficult.  I received numerous admonishments from others indicating that my near decade of caregiving was no longer relevant.  I was thrown off the site.

In time, the millennial caregiver will become the boomer generation and then they, too, will have to respond to a new generation of caregivers.  In the meantime, I hope social media continues to be populated with many more entities who can provide honest feedback and offer sane advice.

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