Young, working professionals are putting their lives and careers on hold to take care of aging parents or grandparents. Currently, one in six Americans cares for an elderly or disabled family member, and as the baby boomer generation begins to age, this number will likely increase. But there’s another interesting shift happening simultaneously. The age of caregivers is also getting younger; millennials now make up 24 percent of family caregivers, per the Wall Street Journal.
This can put young adults at a pretty significant disadvantage. Already tasked with a career, financial obligations and their own family, many are ill-prepared for when they’re suddenly caring for an elderly loved. This juggling act is exhausting and emotionally taxing, with 70 percent of caregivers struggling with work duties due to their dual roles. Unfortunately, when placed in this situation, many must make tough decisions about whether to prioritize work or family.
Caregiving can take a significant amount of time. A recent Senior Care Action Network (SCAN) survey showed that 29 percent of family caregivers spend 40 hours a week or more caring for a loved one. The time commitment can be more than a full-time job and can vary greatly, depending on the intensity of care they need. Some seniors are relatively independent and just need family around for company and minor assistance. But others may require more significant care, which can spell massive problems when piled upon a full-time career. It’s not uncommon for those problems to spill into work hours.
It has been shown that caregiving can reduce employee work productivity by 18.5 percent and even increases the likelihood of employees leaving the workplace. Further, per another study, employees with caregiving responsibilities cost their employers an estimated eight percent–an additional $13.4 billion per year—more in health care costs than employees without caregiving responsibilities.
The time commitment is noticeable. How long any employer is willing to tolerate such an arrangement will of course vary. But caregiving can become intrusive, and it’s why many young people have paused their professional lives while playing the role of caregiver.
The Financial Toll
The financial toll on family members playing the role of caregiver can vary. The same SCAN survey found that 47 percent of caregivers had to change their spending habits to help with caregiving responsibilities. Between medical costs and the day-to-day needs of their loved ones, family caregivers find themselves cutting back on their own discretionary spending, dipping into their personal savings to provide care, and accruing credit card debt.
haFurther, 60 percent of caregivers report having to rearrange their schedule, take unpaid leave, or modify their hours in some way to continue to care for their loved one. The more intense the care needs, the bigger the impact on a family caregiver's work life, per the AARP.
The financial impact goes beyond spending, too. Many family caregivers have to deal with lost wages, missed days of work, reduced hours, or may even be reprimanded for poor work performance. A MetLife study found that caregiving for family members results in over $3 trillion in lost wages, retirement and benefits. This is particularly problematic for younger people many of who may have significant student loan debt, which is now reportedly a staggering $1.53 trillion in the United States.
Some companies do offer Family Medical Leave (FMLA), a federal program that allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for personal or family medical emergencies; however, many smaller companies are not required to offer medical leave, so those workers have no recourse or risk losing their job. Some family caregivers are taking care of ineligible family members, such as grandparents or in-laws, and there is no protection for these cases. A big reason why many hesitate to take FMLA is that they cannot afford to take unpaid leave. This leaves workers with little recourse for time off to care for family members.
The Emotional Struggle
Caring for an aging family member can feel emotionally conflicted about their responsibilities. No one wants to see their friend neglected. On the other hand, caring for an adult, particularly one who may be physically ill or needs intensive care can be exhausting even without the demands of a job or personal life.
Working people in this position can feel like they are failing in both areas, with their attention being constantly torn in two directions. It is impossible to give both situations 100 percent attention when work and an aging loved one are equally demanding. A study in the American Journal of Nursing found that caregiving “creates physical and psychological strain over extended periods of time” and qualifies as chronic stress, leading to adverse physical and mental health effects. The study found that the unpredictability of caregiving also leads to secondary stress in many other areas, mainly work and relationships.
Professional Caregiving Can Liberate
Professional caregivers are trained professionals who can offer hope and relief to families trying to find a balance between caring for a loved one and other responsibilities. Caregivers can take over a few or all of the day to day duties and help family members focus on other important aspects of life, like work. Professional caregivers can offer different levels of care, depending upon the needs of the client. Even if your loved one just needs some company, transportation, light housekeeping, or gentle medication reminders, caregivers can take over those duties. These types of services can be provided in just a few hours a week or as full-time care, if necessary.
Professional caregivers can help ease the struggle many younger caregivers face between their own lives and caring for aging parents. Although it can be a difficult decision for families to hire professional caregivers, it may be the liberation that young professionals need to finally pursue their own life and career goals. Find more details on what type of services a home care provider offers here.