Caregiving for a loved one is a unique experience that is, for many people, its own reward. But that doesn’t mean that caregiving doesn’t come with its challenges.
Caring for another person can be a major inconvenience, and can even require you to put your own life plans on hold. This is often a bigger concern for younger caregivers, who are more likely to be at a point in their life where they’re going to school, trying to start their career or trying to find a romantic partner.
Being a Caregiver at a Young Age Is More Common Than You Might Think
When you think of a caregiver of an older adult, you might assume the caregiver in question would be their adult child, and that these caregivers would be in their 50s or 60s, but this isn’t always the case. You might think that younger caregivers are rare, but, according to an AARP research report from 2020, 46% of caregivers in the U.S. were aged 18-49. And out of those, 81% cared for someone aged 50 or older.
An earlier study from AARP found that one in four family caregivers is part of the millennial generation (generally defined as being born between 1980 and 1996) and a 2018 survey found that the average age of caregivers overall went down, from 53 in 2010 to 47 in 2018.
The Unique Challenges of Being a Caregiver at a Young Age
Lack of Support for Young Caregivers
Libby Brittain became a caregiver unexpectedly in her late 20s, when her mother developed early-onset Alzheimer’s. When she realized that her mom was having problems living on her own, Libby made a cross-country move from New York City to San Francisco to support her.
When she made it home, she realized that her mother needed help in just about every aspect of her life – running errands, keeping the house clean, taking care of herself, and paying bills. That’s when Libby realized that what she thought was mild depression was most likely dementia. She researched dementia, set up appointments and helped her mom get diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 65.
Libby knew that caregiving would be hard, but she expected to receive support. After all, she thought, many women her age were having children, and they received paid maternity leave, as well as emotional and practical support from their jobs, friends, and families. Why should caring for a parent be any different? Instead, she found that caregivers often get very little support.
On the lack of support she received, Libby says:
“Friends and family felt uncomfortable talking about caregiving and its taboo themes of death and money. My employer offered no voluntary benefits for family caregivers and less than half of the paid leave it offered to new parents. The best professional advice I found from estate-law attorneys and care managers was helpful, but it was also expensive — and Google searches turned up few expert voices I could rely on …”
Since then, Libby’s founded the website Carol, a “modern support system for every family caregiver.” Carol offers more specialized support groups, video classes and other resources for family caregivers.
The Financial Strain of Caregiving for Young Caregivers
The AARP study found that the youngest caregivers – those aged 18 to 49 – reported the highest financial strain (22% vs. 15% of caregivers aged 50 and older). This makes sense, especially for the youngest of this group, who may not be secure in their careers yet, or may have their education or professional plans deterred by their caregiving responsibilities. In fact, the same study also found that caregivers who have less than a college degree reported financial strain more often (21% vs. 14% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher).
Disruption of Life Plans for Young Caregivers
Perhaps the biggest challenge for younger caregivers, especially the ones who are in their 20s or younger, is the disruption of life plans that comes with caregiving. This could mean putting off plans to go to college, dating, making friends and spending time with them, or starting a career, most likely for several years. Caregiving requires a lot of time and effort. It’s essentially a full-time job, but is not always treated as such. Young caregivers who still need income or who want to get their career started might have to figure out a way to care for their loved one while still working full-time.
Tips and Advice for Younger Caregivers
1. Create and Stick to a Schedule
Samantha, who became a caregiver for her mother at age 19, writes about her experience for Caregiver.org. She shares her story and gives some advice for other young caregivers about the importance of creating and implementing a schedule:
“If you are planning to caregive, be prepared to wake up very early in the morning because you might have to give timely medications [and/or] set up your love[d] one for an appointment.”
Samantha warns other caregivers to allow for time to get themselves ready in the mornings and to care for themselves, before they begin caregiving. She found out early on that she couldn’t get both herself and her mother ready in the morning. She says:
“I did both at the same time and it was a huge mistake. My mom ended up falling because I didn’t think to do the two separately. She was okay, I just got annoyed at my ignorance.”
Routine is especially important when it comes to caring for someone with dementia. Routine and structure give individuals with dementia a sense of security and safety and reduce confusion.
Want to learn more? Click here to see an example of a caregiver’s schedule.
2. Seek Support
You might feel responsible for your loved one, but it’s ok to reach out for help, whether that means asking for caregiving help from family or emotional support from friends, or seeking out a support group for caregivers. We all need help sometimes!
3. Care for Yourself, Too!
Something we feel very strongly about at Sundara is that you can’t care for others when you don’t care for yourself!
Related: Caregiver Stress Check
It’s important to manage your stress, emotions and physical health before it turns into a crisis. Caregivers are susceptible to caregiver burnout, which can lead to a variety of physical and mental health symptoms that can interfere with daily life.
Not sure what burnout is? Here’s how to recognize and prevent caregiver burnout.
You Don’t Have To Go Through This Alone
If you’re a young caregiver for a loved one with dementia, we are here for you. At Sundara, memory care is all we do, and we’re really good at it. We’ve created a small, intimate and personal environment where individuals with dementia feel less scared and confused, and instead feel calmer and more content.
If you or your loved one are in the Round Rock, Texas area and you need help with caregiving for dementia, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. We offer long-term memory care, as well as short-term respite care.
Want to see our community for yourself? Schedule a tour online today or by calling us at 512-399-5080.
If you’re not looking for memory care or aren’t in the Round Rock area, find a local caregiver support group here.
How about you? Are you one of the 46% of U.S. caregivers aged 18-49?