If you’ve recently found yourself in the position of physically caring for an older loved one, or at the very least providing some type of support be it emotional, a drive to the doctors or picking up your Mom’s groceries, it may help you to know that you are not alone. Across North America, as our population continues to age and our health care systems lag behind “the boom” in the baby boomer population, more and more millennials are finding themselves reunited with boomers. Unlike the Peaches and Herb song “Reunited” (ask your parents) it doesn’t “feel so good.” Just as your parents once catered to your every need; feeding, diapering, bathing and more – you may now find yourself in the unenviable position of having to do the same for them, all while still caring for your own family and career.

As of 2020, more than 21% of Americans found they were providing care to an older loved one whether a parent, grandparent or another family member. In Canada, a January of 2022 survey conducted jointly by C.A.R.P. and Sunlife found that more than “half of Canadians provide unpaid care in their lifetime.” Two thirds of the survey respondents would be considered millennials and much like the American results, better than 50% (and as much as 65% plus) of them are women. Disproportionately, we know that many women are leaving the workforce to provide care to an aging parent and/or that women are doing double duty, often caring for both a parent AND their own children who are still living at home. Not surprisingly, it’s a herculean task that comes without benefits, wages, health and mental wellness care or indeed any real recognition of the true value of this caregiving both to the family and the greater community. Ultimately, all this “free” labour is reducing the burden on already overburdened health care systems. Are you ready to do your part? If your answer is a resounding “No,” we’d certainly understand!

Let’s not make this all doom and gloom however. After all, your parents cared for you largely without complaint and chances are, you at least won’t have to deal with an older adult staying out late, breaking curfew or any discipline issues arising from skipping school or not doing your homework like they had to with you! Rather – let’s talk a bit about what you can expect – and how you can prepare for it.

The Predictable Unpredictability of Care and How to prepare for your role as a Caregiver

It’s obvious that at some point we are all going to age – if we’re lucky! With aging come some certainties that we can likely all count on and as such, knowing what we might be facing for our parents or eventually, for ourselves, we can prepare for them too. Notwithstanding those things we can predict, this list may also help you to “prepare” as much as possible for the unpredictable including sudden health scares like a stroke or debilitating accident. Things to consider:

  • We’ve discussed this before. Have difficult conversations with your loved ones about their care expectations as they age, what to do in the event of an emergency (make sure you are clear on all their medical wishes) and have anticipatory conversations with your spouse, siblings and perhaps even your young adult children on how they all might play a role in providing care. There’s no reason for example that older grandchildren can’t take on some of the more simple tasks like grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions. In other words – have a plan for sharing the workload!
  • As much as possible, prepare a schedule of caregiving ahead of time. Of course life happens but we all like and appreciate some predictability in our lives – perhaps even more so as we age. Give Grandma a schedule that details who she calls for help and when, or on what days you will be there to support her. In the event of daily care requirements it may not always be possible of course to “schedule” a bathroom break for when support is available but having some routines in place can help both the caregiver and the cared for manage their time.
  • If you are not already there, make some time to go over your loved ones pertinent information and make arrangements to meet with bankers, financial planners, the family doctor and lawyer to help anticipate and plan for future care. Perhaps there is a little wiggle room in the budget to hire a personal support worker for even one hour a day? Investigate what deductions or claims may be available through the government and/or your employer.
  • In a recent HuffPost article it was suggested that in America, caregivers lose as much $522 billion dollars in lost wages and that caregiver work (if paid) would average over $600 billion! Significant work remains to be done in both countries around tax credits and benefits and employer programs to support time off for caregiver responsibilities but it’s still worth looking into what might be available in your area. In Ontario, Canada as an example, some families are able to arrange for private nursing care and claim back a portion of those expenses through their local health care unit.
  • Be realistic about what you can and can’t do. There’s no shame in finding that you cannot cope with the reality of helping bathe and diaper (in the industry they are referred to as “briefs”) your Mom or Dad. There should be no guilt either. Some of us can handle this kind of task and others can’t – it doesn’t mean you love your parent any less. At some point, we may all find that we have to make tough decisions about whether to place a loved one in care. When that time comes, once again we suggest it’s better to have done some of research ahead of time rather than having to make tough choices during a crisis. Additionally, in many states and provinces there are lengthy waiting lists for subsidized housing, it may be to your advantage to put a name on a list long before you anticipate actually needing assisted living.
  • Much of the work that is also considered caregiving might even be things you don’t think of as a hardship or burden at all. They are simply things that you might need to do to help your aging parent to age in place safely. If you’re familiar with the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” these tips may well help to prevent serious accidents or injury, allowing you to prolong the time where you may one day be required to give more focussed care. These include:
    • Installing grab rails, shower safety kits/non-slip mats and raised toilet seats.
    • Widening doorframes, placing a ramp outside to avoid slippery or steep stairs or installing a stair lift in the family home.
    • Taping down loose rugs or removing them altogether and bundling wires for lamps or TV’s to avoid other potential tripping hazards.
    • Ensuring all the kitchen appliances have auto off functions for safety purposes.
    • Providing your loved one with an alarm monitoring system so they can call for help.
    • Make full use of pharmacy and grocery delivery services – many of these are offered for free to seniors and will help lighten your daily workload.
    • Take a vacation! We’re not joking. If you’ve been watching the slow and steady decline of a loved one, take a holiday now because while we’ve tried not be too pessimistic, the statistics tell us there’s a good chance you’ll be providing some level of care in your near future so if you can afford it, take a holiday now while you still can.

Millennials, as you embark on this next chapter of your lives, it may also help to remind you that your parents once did for you all of the things you are about to be asked to do for them. We’re pretty sure that a good portion of these caregiving tasks are ones you will undertake willingly. That said, you may have a career, children of your own to care for and it’s possible you’re doing all of this without a partner. It may even cost you money as the AARP also noted family caregivers may incur almost $7,000 in out of pocket expenses annually. We also know that the toll on mental health can be enormous. So our best advice is to look for any and all supports that are available to you now – before you experience caregiver stress and burnout. Look to other family members, what might be available in the community and even to your employer if any time off is a possibility. Do your homework now – just like your boomer parents encouraged you to do it “way back then!”