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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
June 2018
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Senior Spectrum Publications

Adding Life to Years
by Dr. Larry Weiss
Center for Healthy Aging
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Family Caregiving: Generational Differences

Dr. Larry Weiss
Dr. Larry Weiss

Most of us take on the role of parent and caring for the young fairly naturally, but what about caring for an elder family member.

Young and old family members provide the bulk of care for elders. However, there are differences among the generations when they are called upon to provide care for an elder family member. Young adults don’t give much thought to their own needs as they get older, but a significant number are already providing long-term care for older loved ones, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (2018). According to this poll, a third of American adults under age 40 have already provided care for an elder and another third expect to provide care within five years. This survey reported that 36 percent of the young adults have provided care for a family elder or are currently providing care.

Many caregivers over age 40 provide at least 10 hours of unpaid care a week, while the younger caregivers put in less. Despite putting in fewer hours of unpaid caregiving, younger caregivers are more likely than their older counterparts to say their care responsibilities are at least moderately stressful, 80 percent to 67 percent. Even though younger caregivers under the age of 40 put in fewer hours than the older caregivers, they feel greater stress from the caregiving experience. One-fourth of women caregivers report health problems as a result of their caregiving activities. All caregivers report higher levels of depressive symptoms and mental health problems than do their non-caregiving peers (20% to 50% report depressive disorders or symptoms). Two-thirds of caregivers report they need help to find care for themselves, to balance work and family responsibilities, and to manage emotional and physical stress. These statistics are dramatic statements about the need to focus on caregiving for younger family as well as their older counterparts.

At the same time, most caregivers — younger and older — say they’re getting most or all of the support they need, with young caregivers especially likely to say they receive that support from family members. Younger caregivers are also more likely than older ones to rely at least in part on social media for the support they need, 45 percent to 25 percent.

In addition to the 36 percent who already have experience providing care, another 34 percent of adults under 40 expect to become caregivers at some point in the next five years. These younger caregivers are more likely than their older counterparts say they feel unprepared to take on the caregiving role, 53 percent to 37 percent. Still, most say they expect to share caregiving responsibilities rather than take them on alone. Among all young adults, the survey found that less than half say they’ve done any planning for the potential care of an older relative.

Most young adults not only have not done any planning for themselves but they believe that they will not need that kind of assistance when they get older. Even though 70 percent of older Americans will need some type of long-term care service as they get older, just 22 percent of young adults think it’s very likely that they’ll need those types of services themselves someday. In addition, these same young adults have little confidence that government safety-net programs will be there for them as they get older just as they are unsure about their own financial situation.

Clearly, young adults need to plan for their role as a caregiver as well as for their own care as they get older. Identifying service needs and unresolved problems is fundamental to a plan that supports and strengthens the family as a whole, where most care is given and received. Family planning includes direct communication and assessment of roles and responsibilities of a family of caregivers and care receiver. Too often a single person will become the primary and solitary caregiver with the other family members in the background. In order to provide the best care, the healthiest for both young and old primary caregiver and recipient, a team needs to be formed. Here are some tips that work well for families:


As family caregivers, young or old, we have many roles. These roles involve many things, including financial management, housekeeping, driver, personal care assistant, cook, socializer and many more. Perhaps the most important role is being an advocate, since we want our love one to have the best care possible. Advocacy includes understanding their values, wishes for care or independence, and quality of life. The family care team needs to work together and have our loved one be the focus of the best and most appropriate care possible. The best caregiving makes certain that our loved one receive the most appropriate and highest quality service possible when they need it. We are their voice when they are unable to advocate for themselves. What better way to “add life to years” for them.

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.