Family Caregiver Demographics Changing But Needs Not

Men, Older Spouses, Millennials Stepping Up

millennial caregiver
Yep this is the new face of the family caregiver - Millennials. Getty Images

Yes, the large majority of family caregivers are middle-aged women who are helping out an elder parent but the statistics only show part of the story. Men, older male spouses, and Millennials are stepping up to help with care. Family caregiver demographics may be changing but their basic needs are not.

Family caregivers—as well as professional caregivers—are also men and might be well under the average age of a family caregiver, which is 45 years of age, or they might even be over 65 years of age.

A National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP study found that 25% of the estimated 43.5 million family caregivers are between the ages of 18 and 34, some 10 million strong.

This group is about half women and half men. A survey done by Homewatch CareGivers found that 56% of adult children making care decisions are under age 45 and 74% are under age 55.

All Kinds of Caregiving Families

Millennial caregivers may have deferred college, moved back home, and in many ways altered their life paths in order to provide unpaid care to family members who need help with daily activities. Or likewise, they could be raising children, going for night degrees and still embracing their caregiving responsibilities.

Christina M. Fletcher moved back home at age 27 to provide care for both of her parents after several catastrophes led to a need for her help. After Ms. Fletcher’s sister died, her mother—who was living with atherosclerosis and arthritis—had a “break from reality” and her father had a massive heart attack leaving him partially incapacitated.

“It wasn't an easy choice or an easy step to move back to Ohio,” Ms. Fletcher said about leaving school, work, and moving her young daughter from Wisconsin.

While Ms. Fletcher and her family all adapted to accepting care and giving care, some young adults have lived with caregiving most of their lives and had it shape them as they grew up.

Rashelle Quinn, a 22-year old nursing student, was only 3 when her father suffered brain damage in an accident.

Being a caregiver has not so much changed my life plans as it has formed my life plans,” Ms. Quinn said.

And we spoke with others who stepped up to care for a grandparent when they saw that not being married or having kids yet made them the best candidate to be a family caregiver to a grandparent. Erin Pratt, 30, goes to school and helps her 95-year old grandmother by providing transportation to go to the grocery store or get to a doctor’s appointment.

“It helps me to remember to stay balanced in life with service and getting outside of my little world,” Ms. Pratt said of caring for her grandmother.

Some Things Never Change

Despite the age and life responsibility differences between the typical caregiver and millennial caregivers, all family caregivers still need to remember to take care of themselves. The NAC/AARP survey found that 38% of family caregivers find their situation to be “emotionally stressful” and 19% experience physical strain from providing care.

While the percentages of people who feel stress as a result of caregiving depends on who they are providing care for and the number of hours per week, the fact is that it can be stressful and lead to health and emotional problems for these caregivers. There can also be financial strain as people cut back on work hours so that they can be available to provide care to their family members.

Ms. Fletcher said that she finds her busy life a pleasant distraction from feeling too stressed by caregiving, but she does sometimes decompress by chatting with friends or watching funny videos online. When she does get together with friends who also have caregiving roles, she said that the last thing they want to do is focus on their issues as caregivers. Ms. Quinn said she leans on family when feels a need to care for herself.

Caregivers of every age need to care for themselves and not become isolated from social connections, humor, and joy. Experts recommend that a family caregiver find a support group or get respite care—whether from a hired professional caregiver or another family member—on a regular basis so that they do not burnout and put their own health and well-being at risk.

As people live longer and debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s increase, there is a greater need for caregiving—both family and professional. Sometimes this might be grandchildren caring for a grandparent or young adult children caring for a middle aged parent. Millennial caregivers are not just a trend of the moment, but part of the new way of life in which more and more people need care as they age. An interesting piece of this is that Millennial caregivers are equally split between male and female and male caregivers are embracing a nurturing role. That is encouraging and a great example for everyone.

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