Are Millennials the New Sandwich Generation?


On the blog, Sara Gearheart tells a heartwarming story. The 29-year-old assumed that her father would not be able to make her commencement ceremony as she earned her graduate degree. On the day of the ceremony, her mother surprised her by announcing that her father was going to be there after all. Sara explains, “After hearing those words I broke down. I was so emotional, because I knew how difficult it was for him to make the trip.”

You might assume that Sara’s dad was just an extremely busy executive, or maybe a doctor on call. The truth is that Sara’s dad is in his 80s and is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It took an incredible effort by the nurses at his care facility and by Sara’s mother and brother to bring her dad to the graduation ceremony.

A Growing Trend

Sara is not alone in her struggles to care for a parent with Alzheimer’s. We’ve been hearing a lot about the “Sandwich Generation,” or the middle-aged adults who find themselves caring for aging parents as well as supporting adult children or grandchildren. Unfortunately, Sara represents the emergence of a whole new sandwich generation – the millennial generation. As parents continue to have children at older ages, our newest adults may soon find themselves juggling the care of young children and a parent with dementia.

Understanding the Millennial Generation

Generally, millennials are considered to be people born between 1980 and 2000. As of the writing of this article, the oldest millennials are celebrating their 36th year. As a whole, the generation is coming into its own, diving into the workforce in droves, buying their first homes, getting married, and starting families.

Even in their young lives, the millennials have already had a wild ride. This is the generation that grew up believing that they could do anything they set their minds to. They are also the first real computer generation, living in the midst of the breakneck technology boom that has opened up the world to them in ways their parents couldn’t have imagined. This is also the generation that grew up with 9/11 and a long war overseas. Many of the older millennials graduated into the doldrums of the great recession and saw their optimism curbed by long-term unemployment. This is a complex generation that contains great enthusiasm and idealism, but it must also fight against also cynicism, the lure of the selfie culture, and financial stress.

On top of everything, millennials may be the youngest generation yet to face the prospects of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s even as they begin planning to start their own families.

Older Birth Rates Means Older Parents

It may be kind of shocking to hear the story of someone like Sara Gearheart, who at age 29 must contend with a father in his mid-80s who has Alzheimer’s. Though her situation is unusual, the trend of parents having their first child at an older age is more common than ever. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, first births to women in the United States ages 35 – 39 were 1.7 per 1,000 births in 1973. Fast forward to 2006, and the number was 10.9 per 1,000 births. That’s a six-fold increase in a little over 30 years!

A woman who was 35 when she gave birth to one of the very first millennials in 1980, would be 71 today. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly 15% of Americans aged 65 – 74 are suffering from Alzheimer’s. It could be entirely possible that woman’s son may be welcoming his own first child into the world even as Grandma starts to become more forgetful. As the millennial generation grows older, this trend will only continue picking up speed. The Alzheimer’s Association finds that a staggering 44% of Americans ages 75 – 84 years old suffer from Alzheimer’s. In another decade or two, a large swath of the millennial generation could be faced with taking care of their children and their parents at the same time.

A Never-Ending Caretaker?

Millennials today have had to face many challenges. They survived the great recession but are now expected to “Lean In,” and have it all even as many face steep student loan debts and anemic wage increases. What happens when a parent with Alzheimer’s enters the picture when a young son or daughter may still be struggling to get on their feet or may be focused on their own major life events like getting married and starting their own family? Can the generation that was raised to believe they could be anything handle these myriad responsibilities and challenges?

We think so. Most of us find a way to step up when a challenge presents itself. Certainly, as more millennials face new challenges in caring for parents with Alzheimer’s, they will form communities, share resources, and work harder. Their situation will become the new normal.

Facilities like Sunshine Care will also be here to care for individuals who require supervision. Resources like our Support Group for Caregivers and Families can also be welcomed sources of information and camaraderie. We believe that the millennial generation will find a way to care for their parents and also live the lives of greatness and promise they grew up dreaming about.


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