Gen X to Gen Z: Passing the Caregiving Torch
My daughter is part of Gen-Z; she’s turning 21 this year, and like others in her age bracket she’s focusing attention on her career path, as well as making social media posts and having fun with her bestie. She’s very intelligent, and she makes me laugh—a lot—and I am so proud of the young lady she’s become. But while I admire her in so many different ways, there’s one thing in particular that puts her lightyears ahead of where I was at her age: her wonderful ability to communicate with her Pawpaw who has Alzheimer’s.
When I was 29 and suddenly had to begin caring for my grandparents who both had dementia, I had no idea how to communicate with them. I went through the whole “correction” thing, thinking I was helping them—until I began to understand that the strange things they were saying truly reflected how they were experiencing life. The dementia was removing pieces of their memories, so when their timeline got messed up or names were forgotten, it was their legitimate response to gaps in the available information.
Because my daughter has learned from my early experience, she has a much better grasp on how to approach her own grandfather. On a recent visit with Pawpaw, I observed how easily she talked with him; she had no agenda and was unafraid to engage him in conversation. She put no pressure on him to “remember” this or “know” that, and she smiled warmly as they talked. She answered his questions with ease, never suggesting for a moment that his conversation was confused and incomplete. He didn’t know her name, but his face lit up with a huge smile when he saw her; you could tell that something in his mind recognized her as being someone important to him.
I believe she does so well because she’s been educated about his condition. This is an area I’d like to see expand—because the number of patients with Alzheimer’s or other dementia types is projected to expand. Currently, more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to rise to nearly 13 million by 2050. It would be enormously beneficial to begin teaching people across all generations the tips and strategies we caregivers have had to learn the hard way. I strongly encourage people who are Gen Z or millennials to learn the facts about caring for aging loved ones because you never know when you may be tapped to provide care; remember, I was only 29 and a new bride still in the early years of my communications career when the weight and responsibilities of caregiving fell on me.
People need to have a basic understanding of what it means to provide care for a loved one. The job is so involved—someone who’s never done it wouldn’t necessarily realize its scope. Ranging beyond the actual day-in and day-out tactics of providing care, the job requires having a fair amount of information as well.
- What documents are needed to legally care for a loved one?
- Is dementia just a normal part of aging or is it something more?
- What’s the deal with insurance for people over 65?
- What factors constitute an “unsafe” home environment?
- What is long-term care and what’s the tip-off that it’s needed?
There are several ways to begin gathering information to prepare you for the caregiver role, and I’ve listed three really good ones below—although there are many others as well:
- AlzAuthors (www.alzauthors.com)
- The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org)
- AARP (www.aarp.org/caregiving/)
In addition, I invite you to read my memoir, Goodnight, Sweet: A Caregiver’s Long Goodbye, which details my personal caregiving journey—having to learn everything through hard experience. Also, take a look at my new educational ebook, Everything I Wish I Had Known: Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s or Other Dementia. Both of these were written because I wanted to do everything possible to keep others from being blindsided (like I was) by the demands and expectations of being a caregiver. They are both available on Amazon.