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Engaging Millennials Means Meeting Them Where They Are

Jess Stonefield September 24, 2018

This past spring, AARP released a new report, Millennials: The Emerging Generation of Family Caregivers, which set the longevity industry abuzz. For years, we’ve known the typical caregiver to be a middle-aged woman caring for her aging parent. But the AARP report painted an entirely new—not to mention younger and more diverse—picture. Turns out Millennials are doing a lot more than we realized to care for their aging family members.

According to the AARP report, 1 in 4 family caregivers today is a Millennial, and that number will continue to grow as Boomers continue to age. A recent survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, however, showed that overall, younger caregivers feel less prepared than older caregivers in taking on this role. The question now, then, is how we as an industry can better serve Millennials and, ultimately, create better policies surrounding caring for our aging in the years ahead.

Organizations like LeadingAge and The SCAN Foundation are already hard at work on the issue, seeking to connect with Millennials, share their stories, provide them with resources, and help them realize they are not alone in what can sometimes feel like an isolating caregiving experience. The following are a few of their recommendations for meeting the needs of the growing Millennial careforce, right where they are:

  • Forget the term “caregiver.” Though research shows Millennials are performing the same types of complex functional and medical/nursing tasks as older generations of “caregivers,” by and large, they don’t relate well to that term. Perhaps that’s because 3 in 4 Millennials are also working outside the home—balancing an average of 20+ hours a week of caregiving on top of what they consider to be their official “day job.”According to Amanda Marr, VP of Communications at LeadingAge, the industry needs to start speaking in a language Millennials understand and connect with. The SCAN Foundation, for instance, recently launched a campaign #YouGiveACare aimed toward engaging a younger age-base.
  • Teach them what they need to know—especially the true costs of aging. As the saying goes: you don’t know what you don’t know. In a recent focus group, before launching the Carry the Conversation campaign, LeadingAge found that Millennials were especially unaware of issues associated with financing long-term care, not to mention other costs associated with caring for a loved one, such as home renovations and healthcare deductibles.“The tone of the focus group changed immediately when we shared the fact that long-term care is not covered by Medicare,” says Marr. When Millennials added those costs to their already ballooning student loan debt, the cost of buying a home, or trying to start a family, it felt incredibly daunting. Efforts need to be made to educate younger people about the costs of aging, the limits of Medicare, and the resources available to help them.
  • Know one size does not fit all. When it comes to Millennial caregivers, there is no such thing as “one size fits all.” Half of Millennial caregivers are Latino, black, or Asian American; almost half are male; and about 1 in 3 cares for someone with a mental health or emotional problem. Know that any campaign you develop to support them will need to be tailored and personalized as much as possible for them to relate to it.
  • Go where they go. Millennials are far less likely to pick up a paper pamphlet at the doctor’s office than they are to respond to a colorful campaign on Instagram or an app helping them budget their finances. Those in the industry need to keep this mind and meet Millennials where they are—at the gym, on social media, at music festivals, or shopping online. The SCAN Foundation, for instance, will be taking their campaign on the road to SXSW in 2019 to reach a younger audience.
  • Help them find balance and joy. My own mother suffered from Multiple Sclerosis from the time I was 10 years old. I grew up with an intense fear that I would have to skip college or forego my career if something happened to my step-father, who was caring for her. Many Millennials today are experiencing that same kind of fear and grief as they take on the tasks of caring for their mom or dad during a time when most of their friends are launching their careers, starting families, or buying homes of their own.Says Gretchen Alkema, VP of Policy and Communications at The SCAN Foundation, many are dealing with a “cluster of emotions,” which could include worry or sadness along with compassion for their loved ones. Approach them with the understanding that they are at the starting line of a life not yet lived and help them find ways to balance their own lives with the needs of their aging parents, or grandparents.
  • Know Gen Z is just around the corner. Though Millennials are shaking up the industry today, Gen Z isn’t too far behind them. In fact, some Gen Z-ers are already in their second year of college—old enough to take on caregiving responsibilities. Take time to think of the types of models of caregiving this group of digital natives will need moving into the future.

Not every organization in the longevity sector will be able to hit every bullet above. The most important thing is that you let Millennials know you see them, you understand them, and you want to help them through what will likely prove to be some of the most trying—and gratifying—years of their lives.

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Jess Stonefield

Jess Stonefield is a contributing writer on aging, mental health and the greater longevity economy for publications such as Changing Aging, The Mighty and Next Avenue. She is passionate about impact investing and the greater concept of “equitable equity”—spreading wealth to all levels of our society. She is a communications expert for Senior Living Fund.

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