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December 4, 2019

'Life interrupted': More millennials are becoming caregivers in their 20s and 30s

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    Of the 40 million caregivers in the United States, one-fourth of them are millennials, according to a report from the AARP Public Policy Institute—representing a generation that is facing a unique set of challenges, Susan Garland reports for the New York Times.

    Read Advisory Board's take: 4 ways providers can support caregivers

    The challenges of being a millennial caregiver

    For many people, your 20s and 30s are spent building careers and creating families. But today's millennials face an additional challenge: Many of them are serving as caregivers for family.

    One of the reasons so many caregivers are millennials now is because baby boomers "had their kids at a later stage of their life than their own parents, and they had fewer children to provide the care," according to Gretchen Alkema, VP of policy and communications at the SCAN Foundation, which provides grants for aging-related projects. She noted that a number of boomers are divorced and single, which often leaves caregiving to their children instead of a spouse.

    According to AARP, millennial caregivers spend an average of 21 hours a week taking care of their loved one, and more than half of those caregivers are required to perform difficult tasks, such ashelping someone bathe or use the bathroom.

    For millennials with kids and jobs, caregiving responsibilities can leave them feeling strained. Take, for example, Ariel Brandt Lautman. When she was 35, Brandt Lautman took her kids to Denver to visit her mother whose memory had been fading.

    Brandt Lautman "worked from sunrise to 2 p.m., taking a break to drive her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter to camp," Garland reports. Her afternoons were spent taking her mother to doctors and coordinating the legal paperwork that would give her the authority to manage her mother's finances and make health care decisions. When Brandt Lautman become pregnant with her third son, she moved her mother into a memory care facility near her home in Silver Spring, Maryland.

    "I had a feeling like I was never doing my best. … I wasn't being the best mom, the best partner to my husband, the best employee or the best caretaker to my mom because I was being pulled in so many different directions," Brandt Lautman said.

    Alkema has a name for Brandt Lautman and other millennial caregivers: the panini generation. "They are feeling the heat, and they are feeling pressed," she said.

    The work of taking care of a loved one as a millennial also can have severe long-term consequences if it limits their employment and familial choices, according to Susan Reinhard, SVP of AARP and director of its Public Policy Institute.

    "I call it 'life interrupted,'" she said. "They were saying things like, 'I'm not sure I can get married.' 'I don't know if I can have a baby.' 'I don't know what career I can pursue.'"

    Reinhard said that not dedicating enough time to work can increase the risk of millennials having lower lifetime wealth, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits. "Millennials may feel they have family obligations, but they have obligations to themselves," she said.

    Moreover, AARP found that even when millennials do work full time, they're more likely than older caregivers to receive warnings about their performance or attendance, to be turned down for promotions, and to be fired.

    How millennial caregivers can get help

    Experts say millennial caregivers should seek professional advice on getting help with caring for their loved one, Garland reports.

    For example, a caregiver could look to a geriatric care manager, who is able to tailor care options to a patient's specific needs. According to an AARP survey, these care managers typically charge $175 for an initial consultation and about $75 an hour for care monitoring.

    Caregivers could also turn to an elder-law lawyer to help determine whether their loved one is qualified to receive government-paid home aides, adult day care, assisted living, or other services, Garland reports. Often when a patient's financial assets are below a certain level, Medicaid will pay for everything, though this varies by state, Garland reports.

    There's also an Area Agency on Aging, a public or nonprofit agency that can connect caregivers to a variety of services for their loved ones, such as transportation, home care, and respite care.

    Regardless of age, caregiving can become an isolating experience, Garland reports, but younger caregivers tend to report higher levels of loneliness than older ones. "They think that this is only happening to them," Alkema said. "They don't know that a friend they just met is walking down the caregiving road, too."

    Many caregiver support groups are tailored toward older caregivers, but a number of millennials are developing their own. Brandt Lautman sometimes attends an online video support group for younger caregivers sponsored by her local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, Garland reports.

    Experts say it's also important that baby boomer parents proactively draw up financial and health care powers of attorney, and build a network of people who can help their future caregivers, Garland reports. They should also speak with their children about their financial resources and what kinds of care they prefer.

    Brandt Lautman said she wishes her mother had talked with her about her care preferences, and since early-onset Alzheimer's runs in her family, Brandt Lautman said she's starting to put financial and health care plans together now.

    "My husband does not want to have this conversation," she said. "But I want to have it now" (Garland, New York Times, 11/27).

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