Caring for a Love One Brings New Responsibilities to Millennials

According to a 2017 poll by the Associated Press NORC, 40% of Americans believe that Medicare will pay for long term care. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Medicare pays for intermittent home health care and short-term skilled care in a nursing home, as well as hospice care, unpaid family members are the primary source of care.

The National Caregiver Alliance reports that 49% of individuals in the United States provide care for older adults. More astounding is that 25% of individuals aged 18-34 care for an aging parent according to “Business of Aging – Viceland” (2017), a program dedicated to meeting the needs of millennials.

But who is a caregiver? Caregivers might provide simple assistance such as rides to the doctor, grocery shopping, regular cleaning, or yardwork; but they may also be paying bills, managing medications, helping with continence issues, and taking care of a bed-bound parent. More families are paying cash for services or even leaving the workplace.

In Colorado, the Alzhiemer’s Association reports in 2015 there were 239,000 caregivers providing 272 million hours of unpaid care for a total savings to the state of more than $3 billion for people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. However, these savings in services provided by Colorado caregivers resulted in $135 million in health care costs to themselves.

While the benefits of unpaid caregivers providing care substantially outweighs the additional costs to the Colorado health care system, caregivers are often unaware of resources that may be available to help with care and services. Caregivers are often unaware of resources or feel unable to use them due to cost or other barriers.

Shopping for services can be even more overwhelming. Many older adults have a limited nest egg they saved for their retirement years, making lack of money a major barrier to seeking outside help. Not knowing where to go and who to trust is also a major barrier.

Sometimes families are reluctant to admit they need more help often resulting in guilt and maybe even shame. We hear “my mother took care of six children; we have to take care of her”. The fallacy in that argument is that “mom” was younger, a full-time “mom”, and the children were becoming more independent every day. When adult children care for “mom”, she becomes more dependent, needing more and more care.

According to the 2017 Associated Press-NORC poll, 77% of Americans want to receive care in their own home, 11% in a senior community, 4% in a friend’s home and 4% in a nursing home. Americans also want family to take care of them. More than half of men prefer having a spouse provide care; while women prefer to have their children provide care.

Millennials like order. While Colorado has almost 700 agencies that provide home care meeting the preferences of most seniors, there are more than 675 licensed assisted living facilities and more than 250 nursing homes, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2020 contributing to the confusion in decision making.

The Housing Guide and the Home Care Guide, are searchable databases with information on services, amenities, vacancies, pricing, payer sources, and location. The Guides are tools to help with comparison shopping for housing options such as assisted living, nursing homes, retirement communities, and low-to- moderate income housing as well as home care options including home care, adult day programs, and hospice care. Consumers can learn about the advance care planning. Older adults are often reluctant to complete powers of attorney and to share information about their wishes about desired care. Completing these documents before a crisis is beneficial making it easier for family to provide care.

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About the Author

Eileen Doherty

Eileen Doherty, MS has been the Executive Director of the Colorado Gerontological Society since 1982. She has more than 40 years of experience in education and training, advocacy, clinical practice, and research in the field of gerontology. She is an adjunct instructor at Fort Hays State University teaching non-profit management. She can be reached at 303-333-3482 or at