Acting as caregiver for a family member is a difficult job, and the burden is made even heavier when the caregiver is an adolescent. Most adolescents, meaning those under the age of 18, are playing video games or going to the movies, but it’s estimated that there are as many 1.4 million adolescent caregivers in the United States. Few people realize the prevalence of adolescent caregivers. As a result, support for this population is sorely lacking.
Adolescent caregivers care for people with a variety of conditions and perform a variety of different jobs.
The majority of adolescent caregivers are caring for a family member. 28% of adolescent caregivers help their mothers, 31% care for their grandmothers, and 11% are helping their siblings. The most common conditions afflicting the care recipients are Alzheimer’s or dementia, disease of the heart, lungs, or kidneys, arthritis, or diabetes.
The most common duties for adolescent caregivers are keeping the care recipient company, helping with chores, helping with grocery shopping, or meal preparation. Additional jobs that adolescent caregivers might help with include:
- Getting in and out of beds or chairs
- Getting around the neighborhood
- Taking medicines
- Communicating with doctors or nurses
- Making phone calls
The responsibilities of being an adolescent caregiver can wear down even strongest individual.
Being an adolescent caregiver can have some positive effects. It can teach adolescents to make the best of a difficult situation, show them their own inner strength, and help them to feel more prepared for adulthood. However, the stress and struggles of being an adolescent caregiver can overshadow the rewards.
It’s not uncommon for adolescent caregivers to miss school because of their responsibilities at home. In addition, adolescent caregivers might experience other indicators of educational difficulties, such as receiving educational welfare or psychology services.
Six high school-aged adolescent caregivers at a youth leadership retreat were asked to create a body map detailing their shared feelings and experiences. The resulting body map shows that adolescent caregivers commonly feel distraction, mental stress, fear, and low self-esteem during class. Additionally, adolescent caregivers frequently feel overwhelmed, upset, angry, and exhausted.
Considering that most adolescent caregivers spend around two hours performing caregiving duties every day, this isn’t surprising. Two hours of work after a full day of school is a lot. For older adolescents who are expected to do homework each night, two hours of work is almost guaranteed to interfere with education.
A support system for adolescent caregivers makes a world of difference.
First the people in need of assistance must be identified and given as much information as possible. Information about available services, benefits, and the specifics of diseases and illnesses could be particularly beneficial.
Services that would significantly help adolescent caregivers and their families include domestic help and home health care. For example, home-based dentistry or nursing could make life simpler by removing the need to coordinate appointments and transport the care recipient.
Home-based therapists could also be very beneficial, particularly if the care recipient is disabled. Not only would a therapist be able to help with motor skills, mobility, strength, or endurance, but a therapist would also be able to suggest assistive devices or simple home modifications to make life easier for the care recipient and his or her entire family. Access to low-cost or on-loan assistive devices is also important to ease the burden on adolescent caregivers.
Additionally, respite care options can make a big difference. Respite care, whether it’s in a facility or is provided by a team of home health-care specialists, allows adolescent caregivers to take a break from their duties at home and simply be a kid for a while. It may also be beneficial to have contact information for 24-hour resources, such as 24-hour nursing stations at medical facilities, so that it’s always possible to get in touch with someone to answer questions.
A key worker, whether he or she is affiliated with a charity program or is a social worker, can help coordinate the different services that make life easier for adolescent caregivers. Also, therapists should be available to adolescent caregivers and their families, to make sure that everyone – not just the care recipient – is being taken care of.
There are a lot of resources for caregivers and families, but few are focused specifically on adolescent caregivers.
One that does focus on adolescent caregivers is the International Network for Caregiving Children. This network collects information about caregiver children in resource-poor settings and works with academics, civil servants, and service providers to develop a better understanding of the lives of caregiver children. Through this better understanding, they hope to encourage the development of policies and practices to help caregiver children.
AFA Teens is the youth branch of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Here teens can learn about Alzheimer’s, connect with other teens interested in Alzheimer’s, and learn ways to cope with a family member who has Alzheimer’s.
YouthCarers.net is an online community for young caregivers. Newsletters, chat rooms, and discussion boards allow adolescent caregivers to connect and support each other. This site also has information and resources to help adolescent caregivers deal with their feelings, get jobs outside the home, handle bullies, and more.
The Caregiving Youth Project, which is a program of the American Association of Caregiving Youth, has a lot of resources for adolescent caregivers. For instance, this site has lists of schools with support systems for adolescent caregivers, recommended reading, and contact information for people who can help adolescent caregivers.
If being a caregiver is interfering with an adolescent’s education, programs like Khan Academy can help. This is an online academy for students, teachers, adults, and anyone else. It’s also completely free and open to everyone.
If you know an adolescent caregiver, let him or her know that you’re there to help. If the caregiver is unable to leave the house, offer to stop by with takeout or a home-cooked meal. Then stay and chat, and maybe even do a few dishes just to lighten the load before you leave. If you’ve got a free day, ask if he or she would like you to take over the caregiving duties for a couple hours.
Ask if the caregiver or his or her family needs anything. Mention that there are online resources and offer to show them. Above all, make it clear you’re there to help and support. Being a caregiver can create intense feelings of isolation, stress, and frustration, and sometimes simply knowing that there’s someone willing to lend a hand once in a while can make a big difference.
Do you know any adolescent caregivers who could use a helping hand?
Image by Leo Hidalgo via Flickr