Not long ago, I was invited to speak—virtually—to an audience that you wouldn’t normally think of when you think about aging: young professionals. And yet this group, just beginning the arc of their careers, turns out to be incredibly thoughtful and curious about what awaits them at the end of their careers, as well as how they can plan now for supporting their aging parents. We shouldn’t be surprised: Millennial caregivers now make up 25% of unpaid family caregivers—or about 10 million nationwide. But those employing and managing Millennials in the workplace may be startled by just how deeply their young charges are already thinking about planning ahead. And their questions, below, may offer as much insight as my answers.
(A special thanks to all the staffers and questioners at The Skimm, the uber-trendy Millennial newsletter that hosted my “Ask Me Anything” on “Caring for Parents as a Young Professional.”)
Q: As a millennial who might not have children of my own, I have a lot of anxiety about who will care for me when I get old. How can I prepare for this? I know money is a factor, but money can’t buy the level of genuine love, care, support, and advocacy that family provides. I look at how much my mom does for my grandmother, and I panic thinking about what will become of me if I don’t have someone to do those things for me.
A: Thank you for this very important question. You are not alone. There’s even a term for it: elder orphans, or someone who is aging without family available to help with caregiving. The majority of people over 65 will need some type of long term care in their lifetime so it’s good you are thinking ahead. Yes, finances are important. Planning for the financial aspects of care by considering long term care insurance or saving for your care needs down the road are worthwhile options to consider. It might be helpful to work with a financial advisor to make the best choices given your particular situation. As you age, you may want to think about living in a community that will provide you with support and emotional connection. For example, there are communal living options such as taking a roommate (sometimes in exchange for household or caregiving duties) as well as senior living communities with built-in services that cater to a wide range of needs. You may also want to develop a network of friends and neighbors who can mutually support one another and pitch in when someone needs help.
Q: My parents are the type that always say, “I never want to be in a nursing home.”What if my parents need a nursing home and they refuse to go? How do you balance the requests of your parents with what is actually best for them as they get older?