Young Caregivers make up 12-18% of the caregiving population yet are not often talked about in the media. Although many people don’t think of teens and millennials as caregivers, they are and have their own unique set of problems they face in addition to the enormous amount of challenges caregivers in general face. Here are some below:
1) Delayed Planning for the Future
Taking care of another person, whether ill, elderly, or disabled, is emotionally and physically taxing. It easily becomes a 24/7 job — one that is often not recognizable by a Fortune 500 company. This is a catch-22 because your early twenties is the best time period to cement a stable career path, and to start choosing romantic partners, as well as whether or not to have children. However, young caregivers regularly find themselves putting off these crucial milestones due to lack of time, and demanding caregiving duties. This often leads to young caregivers having a delayed start for their own lives. They engage in a delicate balancing act between their role as a caregiver, and finding their role in society.
2) Keeping Up with Schoolwork
Many young caregivers are in high school, and college (some — even in lower grade-levels) and have to deal arduous tests, papers, reports, projects and homework, in addition to their caregiving duties. It is often hard to carve in time to study. Many miss assignments, and take off days to school to take loved ones to doctor appointments. Some teachers/professors can be understanding of the situations, offering extended time for assignments with doctor notes. Others, might not be. The pressure and intensity can take a toll on young caregivers, pushing them back in their academics, and in severe cases lead to young caregivers to drop out.
3) Loss of Friends/Social Life
Being a young caregiver can sometimes mean choosing between going to the late night movie screening with your friends, and making sure you are home on time to give your loved one his/her medication. Friends might not often understand, and the terms “flaky, and “missing out” might become part of their vocabulary. Because of this, young caregivers often miss out on the carefree nature associated with youth.
4) Adapting to a New Way of Life
Young caregivers are more often than not navigating two worlds. They have to grow up faster than some would like and quickly learn new skills such as medical terminology, managing complex finances, and finding legal representation for both themselves and their loved one. Sometimes they do this with little to no guidance, and can get lost in the shuffle of their new role.
5) Finding Time for Self-Care
For some, taking a break after long hours caring for another can be anxiety inducing. It means straying away from a set plan which may be jammed packed with chores including- managing medications, washing a bed pan, preparing weekly meals, etc. It can be difficult to choose and it can even cause the young caregiver to feel guilt. Self-care frequently becomes an afterthought or a young caregiver juggling too many activities at once. However, not taking time out for oneself can also cause a young caregiver to withdraw from his/her support system and isolate his or herself.
Caregiving is difficult at ALL ages, yet noting and being aware of these challenges can aid in the young caregiver’s struggle. It can help prevent burnout at an early age, and lead to a more balanced lifestyle for each member of our community.
Do you know a young caregiver who could use support? They can connect with other young caregivers at The Caregiver Space that has young caregiver support groups (we have one group for high school students and one group for young adults) and find support on our community forums.