Teenagers. College students. Sixth graders. These probably aren’t the people who come to mind when you hear the word ‘caregiver,’ but there are upwards of 1.4 million young adults (between the ages of 10 and 20) currently providing care for an aging or disabled loved one, says the American Society on Aging.
This post from the Aging Wisely blog zoomed in on this “less recognized eldercare issue,” shifting from the broader focus on the recent increase in multigenerational households.
Although it’s becoming more common for Grandma or Grandpa to move in, what we don’t hear much of in the mainstream media is the fact that many young grandchildren are taking on serious caregiving responsibilities, shouldering a great deal of the care burden as their sandwich generation parents are stretched to the breaking point.
And while today’s generation of kids might be pros at multitasking (thanks to the super-connected, fast-paced way of life that is becoming second nature for most of us), caring for an older adult is hard on their young bodies and minds. They get stressed. They get tired. Their health fails. They struggle in school and sometimes even drop out when things get too tough.
Yes, it’s that serious: we’re not just talking about helping Grandma find her glasses or pouring her a cup of coffee at breakfast. As the article says, it can start with something simple — like reminding Grandpa to take his morning meds — and “quickly evolve into a much more complex situation.”
The post offers insights on how to recognize a youth caregiver and practical advice on what to do if you as a concerned friend, family member, teacher, coach or mentor feel the balance of caregiving responsibilities in the child’s household is dangerously out of whack. Check out the tips here.
As more boomers and seniors find themselves in need of care, every family member may be called upon to help — and that’s OK. Younger caregivers can be very effective in their role (many grandparents respond better to them than their own children), and there is much life wisdom and a deeper relationship that may be mutually gained from the caregiving experience. However, a balance is crucial. There are caregiving tasks that are not appropriate for younger carers. There are times when parents should allow their child to enjoy a relationship with the caree that is as close to normal as possible.
There are times when the work of caregiving is a load too great to bear for a young person. There are times when the adult caregiver may need support and encouragement from their child more than help with bathing or dressing Grandma, and other times when this support and encouragement should come from someone else outside of the family (and times when assistance with personal care tasks should also come from an outside provider).
Each family must find their own rhythm and balance and seek healthy, creative ways to incorporate all family member’s help with caregiving. For ideas, check out Caregiving: Don’t Be Afraid to Put the Kids to Work.
Your turn: Do you know a youth caregiver?