A shift in re­spon­si­bil­ity

As rel­a­tives age, more mil­len­ni­als be­come care­givers

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY TARA BAHRAM­POUR

Among the ben­e­fits of liv­ing in an in­dus­tri­al­ized so­ci­ety is the fact that, as medicine and tech­nol­ogy im­prove, peo­ple live longer and the birth rate de­clines.

But th­ese ad­vances may in fact make life harder for Amer­ica’s youngest adults, who find them­selves in­creas­ingly called on to care for aging par­ents and grand­par­ents even as they are fig­ur­ing out how to care for them­selves. Luck­ily for them, stud­ies show that mil­len­ni­als are also more will­ing to be care­givers than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

Mag­gie Gon­za­lez, 25, of Ol­ney, Md., spends Sun­day morn­ings gen­tly wak­ing her 85-year-old grand­mother, who has Alzheim--

er’s dis­ease, by smooth­ing a warm towel over her face. She mois­tur­izes her skin and helps her use the bath­room and dress. “I pick out two out­fits and let her choose, be­cause given too many op­tions she gets con­fused,” Gon­za­lez said.

Gon­za­lez’s mother and her mother’s six sib­lings work full­time, so when Gon­za­lez fin­ished nurs­ing school 21/2 years ago, she spent 50 hours a week help­ing her grand­par­ents. Now that she has a job, she still spends 12 hours on Sun­days car­ing for them at their home in a Rockville se­nior fa­cil­ity.

“I was al­ways raised to re­spect my elders, and I al­ways spent a lot of time with them,” Gon­za­lez said. “They ask me who I’m dat­ing and what bars I go to. . . . And I re­ally en­joy hear­ing about their past.” On a re­cent drive, her grand­fa­ther took hero na tour of house she had built in Po­tomac. “He was a builder, so he built the first house with his six kids, and he took me by the house. It made me tear up, be­cause they’re so old.”

Nearly one-quar­ter of Amer­ica’s adult care­givers are be­tween 18 and 34, part of a ris­ing gen­er­a­tion ex­pected to shoul­der more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as their par­ents and grand­par­ents age.

The typ­i­cal care­giver is still a 50-some­thing woman feed­ing, bathing and trans­port­ing her ail­ing mother. But an es­ti­mated 9.5 mil­lion mil­len­ni­als now pro­vide such help, usu­ally to a par­ent or grand­par­ents, ac­cord­ing to re­cent re­ports by AARP and the Na­tional Al­liance for Care­giv­ing.

Un­like older care­givers ,60 per­cent of whom are women, mil­len­ni­al­care­givers are equally likely to be male as fe­male. The typ­i­cal mil­len­nial care­giver is 27, works at a job 35 hours a week and has an av­er­age house­hold in­come be­low the na­tional me­dian. Most live with, or within 20 min­utes of, those they care for.

And as more peo­ple live long enough to suf­fer de­bil­i­tat­ing dis­eases such as Alzheimer’s, ex­perts pre­dict that the ranks of young care­givers will rise.

“Its an emerg­ing is­sue that we’re go­ing to have to grap­ple with, all th­ese young peo­ple who are po­ten­tially car­ing for a par­ent or a grand­par­ent and how they’re go­ing to man­age all th­ese re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at the same time that they’re try­ing to go to school or hold down a pay­ing job ,” said Lynn Friss Fein­berg, a se­nior strate­gic pol­icy ad­viser at AARP’s Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

Care­giv­ing can fos­ter fam­ily close­ness, but it can also en­croach on young peo­ple’s fi­nances and per­sonal lives. Early adult­hood is tra­di­tion­ally when Amer­i­cans take time to fo­cus on them­selves— get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion, launch­ing a ca­reer or start­ing a fam­ily — and care­giv­ing eats into that.

From an eco­nom­ics stand­point, putting in sev­eral hours a week with Grandma is prob­a­bly not the best use of one’s youth, said Philip Co­hen, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary­land.

“In your 20s and 30s, you’re ide­ally ac­cu­mu­lat­ing work ex­pe­ri­ence and sav­ings and ed­u­ca­tion, and if the need to care for rel­a­tives is im­ping­ing on this, then that is a prob­lem that com­pounds through­out the lives of the co­hort,” Co­hen said.

Coun­tries such as China and In­dia, which do not have so­cial se­cu­rity pro­grams, lose pro­duc­tiv­ity be­cause young peo­ple are ex­pected to take care of older rel­a­tives, he said. “It’s an in­ef­fi­cient use of our so­cial resources, and if this is hap­pen­ing sys­tem­at­i­cally, then there may be holes in our sys­tem of care and we should think about ad­dress­ing it at a so­ci­etal level in­stead of hap­haz­ardly within fam­i­lies.”

Ju­dith Vick, 30, of Bal­ti­more took a year-long leave from med­i­cal school last year to care full­time for her mother, who had suf­fered a mas­sive he­m­or­rhagic stroke. Vick has cut her care­giv­ing to 12 to 15 hours a week and plans to re­turn to school in De­cem­ber, but she expects the con­tin­u­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to take a toll.

“I know that there’s this tremen­dous po­ten­tial for me to con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety, and I’m at a launch­ing point in my ca­reer right now, and need­ing to go to a phar­macy that’s 45 min­utes away be­cause the closer phar­macy didn’t have the right medicine and then wait­ing an hour to two hours be­cause they didn’t ac­tu­ally get the pre­scrip­tion, that’s like three hours in an evening when I need to be do­ing my work,” she said. “That’s a very dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion from some­one who’s very set­tled in their ca­reer.”

So­ci­etal shifts

In some ways, mil­len­ni­als are per­fectly suited to be fam­ily care­givers. More than 40 per­cent live with their par­ents at some point as adults, and they are mar­ry­ing later than ear­lier gen­er­a­tions, leav­ing them more time to spend with par­ents or grand­par­ents.

They also may be par­tic­u­larly open to care­giv­ing be­cause they ex­pe­ri­enced less of a gen­er­a­tion gap than baby boomers did with their own par­ents, said Stephanie Coontz, re­search di­rec­tor at the Coun­cil on Con­tem­po­rary Fam­i­lies. “You have them re­lat­ing to their par­ents a lot more as friends,” she said. “They’ve de­vel­oped much more of a sense that‘ I’ d sure like to help out’ . . . and there is also a sense that par­ents are help­ing their kids out ma­te­ri­ally a lot more than int he ’50 sand’ 60s, so you get a sense of grat­i­tude there.”

Al­though their care­giv­ing in­volves the same ba­sic du­ties as that of their older coun­ter­parts, there are gen­er­a­tional twists.

“Mil­len­ni­als are bril­liant at re­source-find­ing,” said Jan Dougherty, di­rec­tor of fam­ily and com­mu­nity ser­vices at Ban­ner Alzheimer’s In­sti­tute in Phoenix. “We’re see­ing new apps that are be­ing de­vel­oped, that mil­len­ni­als are prob­a­bly go­ing to be early adap­tors of ” — for ex­am­ple, one that al­lows fam­ily mem­bers to co­or­di­nate care across the coun­try. “Older adults may not be as tech-savvy or as con­fi­dent ex­plor­ing on the In­ter­net,” she said. “This is a way mil­len­ni­als can get in­volved and help them.”

The even male-fe­male split also dove­tails with the gen­er­a­tional ethos. “We’re see­ing real changes in mil­len­ni­als’ at­ti­tudes to­ward mas­culin­ity, and their ideas of shar­ing more egal­i­tar­ian work with the women, and see­ing them­selves as co-nur­tur­ers,” Coontz said.

The gen­der statis­tics re­flect the chang­ing face of the work­force in the past 50 years. Mil­len­nial women, on av­er­age, have higher ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment than their male coun­ter­parts, Co­hen said. And mid­dle-aged women who may have been avail­able to care for fam­ily mem­bers in ear­lier gen­er­a­tions are more likely to be at work.

“More fam­ily mem­bers are go­ing to have to be in­volved, in­stead of it be­ing just the adult daugh­ter,” said Gail Gib­son Hunt, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Al­liance for Care­giv­ing. “Be­cause the adult daugh­ter is work­ing, it will have to be younger fam­ily mem­bers step­ping in in­stead of the 52-year-old.”

A will­ing­ness to help

At the same time, fam­i­lies have grown smaller. Mil­len­ni­als have fewer sib­lings, on av­er­age, than their par­ents or grand­par­ents, mean­ing the bur­den will be heav­ier for them, Fein­berg said.

Jef­fery Gel­man, 30, of the Dis­trict is the only fam­ily mem­ber avail­able to care for his 67-year-old fa­ther, who has Parkin­son’s-re­lated de­men­tia. Gel­man, who works in U.N. af­fairs at the State Depart­ment, flew to Chicago 24 times in the past three years to help his fa­ther go to doc­tor’s ap­point­ments.

Last month, he moved his fa­ther to a fa­cil­ity in the Dis­trict, and he says he and his fi­ancee have com­mit­ted them­selves to stay­ing in the area, even if it means giv­ing up op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where.

“I feel like it’s kind of what I have to do for my dad,” he said. “I think of all he did for me and all the sac­ri­fices.”

But it’ s not just a sense of obli­ga­tion .“I get to hang out with my dad,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of meals to­gether that I wouldn’t have been able to have, so it’s been good, and I ap­pre­ci­ate that.”

That will­ing­ness is typ­i­cal among mil­len­ni­als. A Pew sur­vey taken last year found that 86 per­cent of adults ages 18 to 29 said adult chil­dren have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to help their el­derly par­ents fi­nan­cially, if they need it, com­pared with 72 per­cent of 50-to-64year-olds and 64 per­cent of peo­ple 65 and older.

That may help lighten the bur­den, Hunt said. “One of the ma­jor stres­sors of care­givers is feel­ing that they had no choice in tak­ing on the role of care­giver, but the mil­len­nial care­givers seemed to feel that they did have a choice, so that’ s go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence in how stressed they are.”

Gon­za­lez, who works full-time at Holy Cross Hospi­tal in Sil­ver Spring, said her care sched­ule makes her re­luc­tant to go out on Satur­day nights, but she doesn’t mind the trade-off.

“The con­ver­sa­tions have changed since I’ve been spend­ing so much time with them,” she said of her grand­par­ents. “My Nana, even though she has Alzheimer’s, she gives re­ally good boy ad­vice.”

PHO­TOS BY SARAH L. VOISIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Mag­gie Gon­za­lez, 25, spends most of her Sun­days with her grand­par­ents John L. and Su­san du­Fief, who are both 85 and live in a se­nior fa­cil­ity in Rockville.

SARAH L. VOISIN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Mag­gie Gon­za­lez walks with grand­par­ents Su­san and John L. du­Fief at their res­i­dence in Rockville. “They ask me who I’m dat­ing and what bars I go to. . . . And I re­ally en­joy hear­ing about their past.”

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