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Health & Wellness

4 Surprising Ways the Role of Caregiver is Changing

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Family caregivers have a big job. Whether you’re, a spouse, a parent, an adult child, or a close family friend, taking care of someone comes with a host of responsibilities – and rewards.

There are millions of Americans providing care for a loved one every day, many of which are caring for an older adult in their life. However, the caregiving landscape is changing as digital advancements and shifting demographics present both challenges and opportunities.

Get Old spoke with C. Grace Whiting, the president and chief executive officer at the National Alliance for Caregiving.  She shared several insights into how the role of family caregiver in the U.S. is transforming:

Advances in Technology

Mobile, online and in-home technologies have helped to expand possibilities for caregiving, especially when it comes to long-distance care and keeping up with doctor visits. Whiting notes, “Resources such as tele-health and video consultations with physicians, as well as countless mobile apps that offer solutions for the needs of caregivers and their loved ones have helped to evolve the caregiving landscape.”  Many caregivers now have access to technologies that may help them deliver, monitor, track or coordinate their loved ones’ medical care. 

A New Generation of Caregivers

Millennials may not be the first generation that comes to mind when thinking about a population of family caregivers, but millennial caregivers now make up a significant proportion of caregivers throughout the U.S. (about 1 in 4 is part of the millennial generation).1 “They’re equally as likely to be men or women caregivers, which is kind of unique,” says Whiting. “Usually when we look at caregiving demographics – particularly in older generations – we find that more women are filling that role. We’re witnessing changing attitudes about the work of caring and less stigma in younger generations around men’s role in providing care.” Whiting also notes that millennial caregivers are represented evenly across age groups, are more racially and ethnically diverse than older generations of family caregivers and are more likely to be employed while also providing caregiving support.  “It’s no longer seen as gendered or age-related work,” she adds. 

A Shift in the Family Unit

According to Whiting, smaller family sizes, paired with the fact that people are living longer, may pose a challenge for finding enough caregivers for those who need them. “There are just not enough people to care for all the people who will need care by the time we get to the mid-century,” says Whiting.  She notes that the response to these shifting demographics is lending itself to altered lifestyles and living situations – with adult children returning home and staying longer with their parents for example.  With potentially fewer helping hands, this could also have implications not only emotionally, but financially as well – compelling families to plan ahead and look outside the family unit for caregiving support.

Community-based Approaches to Care

People are turning to more diverse solutions, whether that’s through volunteer programs or neighbors caring for neighbors. “Increasingly, older adults are looking for a peer-to-peer based caregiving network, choosing to live in co-dependent villages or in homes or apartments with similarly aged roommates,” says Whiting.  This lifestyle – often referred to as “communal living” –  may be attractive for some people, because it not only guarantees residents neighbors who are in close proximity in case of a health emergency, but also a chance to enjoy the opportunity to be part of a larger community.  

There are many factors that go into establishing a family-led support system and whether you are caring for a loved one yourself, or organizing outside help, Whiting says the most important thing is “communication, communication and communication.”

References:

https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2018/05/millennial-family-caregivers.pdf

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