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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 8:08 pm | Fair 52º

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Positive Aging

Marilyn Murray Willison: Millennial Caregiving Far More Common Than You Think, And That’s Alarming

Currently, there are approximately 80 million young people who fall under the classification of millennial — which includes those born between the years of 1981 and 1996. What this means is that anyone you know ages 22 to 37 can officially be considered a millennial.

To other population groups — baby boomers, Gen Xers, post-millennials, etc. — these individuals may have been incorrectly labeled as being privileged, spoiled or self-centered. But of late, a different portrait of these young people has been emerging. A surprising set of statistics indicates millennials may actually be far more altruistic than any of us might have previously assumed.

This shift in perception began back in 2015, when AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving published a report about the state of caregivers in America today. This landmark study revealed several surprises:

» Many unpaid family caregivers have no real medical training or experience with serious illness.

» More than 15 million people provide care for loved ones who suffer from dementia.

» Only 40 percent of those family caregivers are male.

» Between 40 percent and 70 percent of family caregivers suffer from significant symptoms of depression.

What most experts didn’t expect to discover was that there are more than 10 million millennials in America today who are caring for an adult family member, which means that essentially, one out of every eight millennials is a caregiver.

And the challenges that these young people face often have long-lasting repercussions. For example, millennials who are caring for an ailing family member have almost certainly had to put their life goals on hold. Either academic ambitions (like going back to school) or personal longings (like getting married or having a child) have had to be postponed because their caregiving obligations take precedence.

Many of the older millennials now face the challenges that we baby boomers experienced when we were caught in the middle of being the “sandwich generation.” With the challenges of caring for children at one end of the spectrum and elderly parents at the other, they have precious little time to pursue the normal goals of young adulthood.

In fact, the average millennial caregiver spends 21 hours a week with an in-need relative, and 73 percent of these helpers do so in addition to holding down a job.

While close to 50 percent of older caregivers rely on a social network to help them recharge their batteries, less than 20 percent of millennials discuss the stress levels or the intricacies of their duties with others — especially their peers.

Another disturbing fact about the well-meaning millennials is that they are almost twice as likely as older caregivers (33 percent versus 18 percent) to be caring for a person with emotional or mental health issues.

Researchers were dismayed to discover that of the 1,200 millennials surveyed, most reported spending close to $7,000 per year of their own money to cover expenses for the ill relative who is in their care. When combined with pre-existing student loan debt, these costs put millennial caregivers in a precarious financial situation.

Evidently, there is no age limit for genuine altruism.

Marilyn Murray Willison is a columnist, motivational speaker and journalist, and author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes. Click here to contact her, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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