Most of us associate caregivers with images of an elderly spouse or an adult daughter. But an estimated 1.3 to 1.4 million youth between the ages of eight and eighteen provide care for a loved one with a health condition. According to the American Association of Youth Caregiving, 72% of them are caring for a parent or grandparent on a regular basis. In a study commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 22% of high school drop-outs said caregiving duties were the reason they left school.
For some younger caregivers, the parent or grandparent they provide support to lives with Alzheimer’s disease. An upcoming documentary, Much Too Young, follows a group of young adults who find themselves in that very situation, caring for a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The documentary highlights their everyday reality as they put their hopes and dreams on hold to keep their loved one with dementia safe and well cared for.
5 Ways to Support Young Caregivers
If you know a younger caregiver who is struggling and you aren’t sure how to help, here are a few ideas:
• Stay in Touch: Caregivers of all ages report feeling isolated and disconnected from friends and loved ones. Making an extra effort to stay connected is one of the best ways of supporting a younger caregiver. Even a video chat can help them understand they aren’t alone.
• Research Care Options: A younger caregiver may not have the ability to explore other care options for their loved one. Whether it’s respite at a nearby assisted living community, part-time help from an in-home caregiver or a visit from a local church official, you can do this research and help make the necessary arrangements.
• Encourage Joining Online Support Groups: Helping a younger caregiver connect with peers who are experiencing similar struggles is another way you can support them. Several online caregiver associations have resources and groups specifically for young caregivers. The American Association of Caregiving Youth has a wide variety of information that may be of help. The Caregiver Space and Caring.com both offer online support groups.
• Advocate: Most communities, especially schools, are unaware of the sheer number of youth who are family caregivers. But having a supportive school environment is the best way to keep young caregivers from giving up and dropping out. Talk with The American Association of Caregiving Youth to see what advocacy program they have in place and how you can help promote them.
Financial Assistance for College-Aged Caregivers
Because Caring.com understands caring for an older relative while attending school is a unique challenge, they are sponsoring #CaringScholar. They will award three $1,500 scholarships to college students who care for aging relatives. The program is open to any student who will be attending a university or college in the U.S. in the fall of 2015. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2015.