As baby boomers move up in years, the need for caregivers grows larger. Included in this population of caregivers is one demographic unknown to most of us. These are the youth ages 8-18 who help look after a loved one in poor health or disabled and there are about 1.3-1.4 million of them.
60% of these young caregivers remarked that care giving had negative impacts on their performance and attendance at school. In fact, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation study found that 22% of high school dropouts attribute caring for a family member to leaving school.
Many of the young caregivers mention feeling isolated from their friends because there was no time for after-school interaction. Some cited lack of support from school personnel. For these students, being labeled as a slacker because they fall asleep or are inattentive in class is common.
A youthful community the size of San Diego, care for grandparents, parents and other family members suffering from diseases including cancer, dementia, mental illness, diabetes, ALS, HIV and other chronic illnesses. Instead of spending time with peers and school activities, they bathe, feed and keep confused loved ones from wandering. 70% say they are a caregiver for a parent or grandparent, some spending 50% of their time doing so.
Instead of recognizing their quiet generosity and the emotional and economic stress experienced by the young caregivers, society and funding focuses on the adult caregiver.
So what can the rest of us do to support the youth who care for their loved ones?
- Besides asking about the patient, ask them how they are doing.
- Rather than buying something for the family, visit them. Personal interaction has more meaning, social benefit and is more rewarding for everyone.
- Learn more about the youth caregiver by going to http://www.aacy.org/.
- Teachers can help other students understand the challenges of the young caregivers so they don’t feel so isolated.
- Community and health organizations can start online support groups where caregivers interact with their peers who are experiencing similar issues.
This begs acknowledgment as a serious and growing public health issue. Communities, insurance companies, social organizations and providers should direct more resources to improve it.
If you need help arranging care for the elderly, please contact us.