Hi, I'm A Millennial Caregiver
I recently attended a local caregiver conference and had my three-year-old son in tow. As I looked around the room, I felt camaraderie and separation from the people around me.
I'm in my early 30s and caring full-time for my mother with Alzheimer's disease while also raising three young kids.
I'm a millennial caregiver.
I knew all of us in the room were working hard to care for our loved ones. But I was one of the few attendees under the age of 50. And I was the only person there with a child. To be clear, the conference organizer graciously agreed to bring him as I couldn't find childcare all day.
It's the same in my dementia caregiver support groups. I am usually the only person under the age of 60 or 70. While I dearly love my support community, it can be lonely and overwhelming to be going through something that your same-age peers likely won't go through for decades.
Millions of millennial caregivers
Even so, I know I'm not alone. According to a caregiving study by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP, over 12 million millennial caregivers, defined as those born between 1981 and 1996 who provide unpaid care to a relative or friend by helping with personal needs or household chores.1
Out of those, one in six of all millennial caregivers assisted someone living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.2
As more and more millennials enter the caregiving world, we are finding each other. But it can be challenging to be a young millennial caregiver.2
Stand up for yourself and your loved one
There are some stereotypes of millennials (that we're still children or incapable of making big decisions). The role reversal of having to sometimes be pushy advocates for our loved ones can be uncomfortable. At first, I felt insecure questioning my mom's doctors or correcting a professional working with us who had made a mistake.
But I wanted the very best care for my mom, and I had to grow up fast and get comfortable in my new role as a responsible adult. Even though I'm young, I am not a child and don't have to tolerate being treated like one. One way I assert myself is to introduce myself at the beginning of the appointment with a firm handshake.
"Hi, I'm Kelsey, Penny's daughter and power of attorney." This helps me place who I am and show them I take my role seriously.
Pick up the phone
I also had to get comfortable calling people on the phone. This might sound silly, but millennials are known for their preference for emails and texting, and I was definitely in that camp.
I found out quickly that in the world of elder care, phones still mostly reign supreme. Caregivers have to pick up the phone and talk to someone in order to get things done, whether for medical appointments, caregiver help, or finding support. This is one of those things that gets easier the more you do it, so don't give up if you also feel uncomfortable!
Technology is our friend
We are so lucky to be caregivers in the 21st century because we have the most advanced technology ever. With all the apps, websites, and devices out there, we almost have more than we need to help us in our caregiving life. And as a young person, I usually know how to use it!
Some of the best advice I've gotten from other caregivers is about their tech shortcuts that they use to help them get more sleep or more peace of mind or keep their loved ones at home longer.
For example, one friend suggested Wifi cameras to check on loved ones while out of the house - great if you're worried about falls or the stove being left on. Another friend recommended door sensors or bed pads that chime to alert for wandering at night.
There are automatic pill dispensers, Bluetooth tags to track frequently lost items, Wifi plugs to switch on lamps, temperature-controlled faucets - so many options for our caregiving journey.
Ask a lot of questions
Caring for my mom has thrown me into areas I know very little about. None of my friends know about Medicare, for example, and very few even have a will or other estate paperwork.
So I've had to get comfortable asking a lot of questions. It was easy at first to pretend I knew what a doctor or attorney was talking about, but then I realized it created more work for me to go back and try to figure out what was said.
Sometimes I have to ask others to explain things to me multiple times until I feel sure I completely understand. It's humbling and sometimes a little annoying to have to be so thorough. Still, I want to make sure I know exactly what's happening so I can advocate well for my mom and do the best job helping her with finances and other paperwork.
Find your community
Social media has provided a welcome community for millennial caregivers. I felt very alone as a caregiver until I met other 20 and 30-year-olds going through the same thing.
Many have given up careers, relationships, and future dreams to care for a loved one. And even if they're across the country or the world, I can relate to their extraordinary sacrifice in this stage of life. I love watching Instagram stories of their caregiving journey and sending messages back and forth to cheer one another on.
I also have tried to embrace my new role and jump in with other caregivers even with a large age- and life-stage difference. Those support groups, conferences, and conversations are more important to join rather than wait until I find the "perfect" demographic to be a part of. These caregivers are going through the same thing as me, and that unifies us across our other differences.
Being a millennial caregiver
Millennial caregivers are growing and finding encouragement in the support and resources available. We are a powerful force, and our strong voices will make a difference in the world of dementia advocacy and caregiving.
Do you identify as a millennial caregiver? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community.
Does humor help you cope?