A New Generation: Is ‘Family Caregiver’ a New Life Milestone for Millenials?​

The Millenial Caregiver

I am a Millenial. Born in 1987, I am right on the cusp of the generation shift, and over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a distinct change in the types of conversations I have with others in my cohort.  While we discuss near future decisions like careers, homes, and starting a family the question of how close to home we should stay becomes a critical factor in the decision-making process. Why wouldn’t it?  The comforts of home are attractive to many of us especially as we get a bit older and feel somewhat inclined to carry on family traditions. Being closer to home also helps if and when close family members start to need additional care or support.

The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute report on the Millenial Caregivers cites that the average age of this cohorts caregiver is 27 years old. They are working full-time, half of these caregivers live with a spouse or partner, and on average they have graduated high school and have taken some college courses.  All live with or live close to the care recipient.

For those who aren’t yet a caregiver, the chances of becoming one are extremely high due to the projection of older adults in need of care over the next twenty years. An increased generational focus on higher education and career means that many in the millennial cohort will start a family and buy a home much later than their parents did. A later start also means they will be in full-blown parenting and career mode when their parents begin to need additional care. Many of them are already privy to the realities of the family caregiver role. Their parents are baby boomers who have had the wild experience of raising a new generation while caring for the one that came before them and now is left with the question, who’s going to take care of me?

A Generational Shift

And who will? A shift in preferences has led many older adults to want to age in their own homes and communities, but planning beyond this choice is rare and is not often discussed with, family. No one ever really wants to talk about a loss of independence especially when it is with someone they love. Even though it is a hard conversation to have it is still a conversation that needs to be had. Without a plan in place, many adult children will make healthcare and caregiving decisions based on what they think their parents would want rather than their actual wishes.

In the article, Do Parents Really Want to Live with Their Adult Children? Author Carol Bradley Bursack suggests that there is an increase in interest in parents wanting to live with their adult children.  Citing this option as an economically savvy way to live out our retirement years.  She cautions parents, however, to be thoughtful of the decision.  Making a decision based off of economics may not always mean that there will be harmony in the household and it may be difficult to get out of the arrangement once they’ve already moved in.

So how can families start these types of planning conversations?  The best thing to do is to start early and talk about it often.  Start with the big picture, if you begin the planning process early enough there is plenty of time to sort out all of the details. Have a general conversation about the definite no’s to care options, is a continuing care retirement home out of the question? Or would they rather live in their own house and receive care?  Plans will change, but conversations about preferences and financial ability will help paint a better picture of what options there are and will make everyone in the conversation feel more comfortable broaching the subject.

In need of some ideas to get you started, check out my Sixty and Me article on 5 Senior Living Alternatives: Finding a Home that Fits Your Lifestyle

Having these types of conversations is understandably hard, and it may not always go as smoothly as planned.  However, to start a discussion about how your family member wants to spend their later years is the best way to ensure they continue to have control in the decision even if they are no longer able to make one at the time. Talking about big picture scenarios is an easy way to start the conversations and gives everyone a better sense of what to expect or plan for in the future.  Not all plans are set in stone, but checking back in often with one another on the topic will ensure everyone remains up-to-date on preferences. Plus the more you talk about aging, the easier it gets to discuss!

Further reading: Do you Have a Plan for Your Future Health Care Needs?

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