This article is featured on behalf of Jenna Brown.


The Young Caregiver: The Hidden Demographic

The picture of the adult caregiver is usually that of a young baby boomer or an aging Gen X or, someone in the 40 to 60 age group, married with children of their own, who are taking on the responsibility of caring for an aging parent.

You might be surprised to know that there are also individuals in their late teens and 20s who have the responsibility of caring for their sick parents and even grandparents. These individuals often don’t get the attention or help that they need, which is unfortunate because they often need it the most.

The Hidden Demographic

Approximately 18 percent of caregivers are aged 18 to 25, with the numbers pretty evenly split between male and female. These people often fall into the role of caregiver because there’s no one else available to do it. Although young caregivers make up a sizable percentage, they often don’t get the attention they need. The face of the young adult caregiver is still overwhelmingly that of the middle-aged soccer mom.

The Challenges of the Young Adult Caregiver

Young adult caregivers face many of the same challenges as their older counterparts, but they also have additional challenges due to their age. One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that the person they are caring for gets proper and adequate care.

Anyone who takes over the care of an elderly adult will need legal access to health records, insurance information, and even financial information. They will also need the legal ability to make decisions about the person’s care. Caregivers in their 40s and older might have the financial resources to get legal help, and legal and medical professionals might be more willing to believe that they are capable of handling the responsibility.

Someone in her 20s will have to work harder to prove her credibility, before she can even begin to get the legal backup she needs to take control of her parents’ care, which can ultimately affect the type of care her parents receive.

For example, dementia patient in a nursing home will still need the caregiver to take her to her doctor appointments. But if the caregiver does not have the legal right to discuss the patient’s condition with her doctor, she won’t be able to make decisions about the patient’s care. Not having legal medical access can also pave the way for mistreatment in a nursing home setting.

While many nursing homes are good, there still those who might not give the standard of care those patients need. For example, a patient with dementia who spends a lot of time immobile in bed could develop pressure sores. There are several precautions that can prevent and reduce the instances of pressure sores, including special mattresses and cushions, shifting the patient’s position, keeping the patient clean and dry and encouraging circulation. Unfortunately, a caregiver who knows what causes pressure sores and what prevents them may need legal help in demanding that the nursing home take action.

Other Challenges for the Young Caregiver

Many young caregivers are just starting their own lives, juggling work, school and social lives, when they are faced with the task of having to take care of someone else.

When the child becomes responsible for the parent, it causes a shift in dynamics that can be difficult for both parties to adjust to. Suddenly the child has the responsibility of taking care of someone who until recently was taking care of them, which can put an unusual strain on the relationship. Adult children in their 40s and 50s often have difficulty getting their parents to listen to them and respect their input; it can be even more difficult when the adult child is barely out of his teens.

Older caregivers could be married, with children of their own, when they have to take charge of their parents’ care. While the dual responsibilities of caring for their own families while also caring for their parents can be stressful, having a spouse and/or older children around can also be a source of support. Unless they married extremely young, caregivers in their 20s often don’t have that kind of support. Additionally, the demands of the caregiver role might make it difficult for them to meet people. As a result, they often end up facing the job of care-giving alone.

Older caregivers have often finished school, and may even be close to or in retirement. Young caregivers might have to leave school, or give up on their careers so that they have the time and energy to devote to caregiving. Once they stop being a caregiver, it can be difficult for them to pick up where they have left off.

Help for the Young Caregiver

Although young caregivers are often overlooked, they do have options. The best thing a young caregiver can do is check the website for the National Family Caregiver Support Program. The site offers a lot of information and resources for adult caregivers including counseling services, legal services, and help choosing care options.

There are also local support groups for caregivers through organizations like The Council on Aging, the Caregiver Assistance Network, and the Alzheimer’s Association. Some cities even have Meet up groups for young caregivers.

Young caregivers have to face a lot of challenges, but they don’t have to do it alone.