Last week I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend 4 days with my 94-year-old grandmother, Alice, in Southern California. She has recently moved into independent living in a senior community in Los Angeles, after living in Palm Springs for the previous 31 years. Grandma became a widow 9 years ago after being married to my grandfather, the love of her life for 64 years. It was not an easy battle getting her to give her long-term home in the desert and move north into a facility, as well as giving up her car keys and all of her friends and social life there. The first year that she was in her new apartment, she did not like it. She complained constantly and felt isolated and alone. But sometime later, things shifted and she adopted a new open-minded attitude. She made friends with whom she has dinner every night, found a regular poker game to join, and began activities and classes like scarf painting, current events, and jewelry making.
When I traveled to her new home, I was unsure of what to expect. As I pulled into the gates in my rental car, my curiosity was in full swing. Given that my family and I have worked in the aging industry, I had far more background in these types of facilities and caregiving than most millennials, but it took staying there for a few days and experiencing what life was like as a senior for me to get a more realistic perspective. I also experienced firsthand what it was like to be a caregiver.
The highlight of my trip was definitely watching her take her twice-weekly boxing class. The high-energy instructor really cared about the residents and knew everyone by name. My grandmother was not even the youngest; there was a lady who was 100! The class was another reminder of how important fun is for our aging loved ones. Besides watching grandma kick ass and take names, I observed first hand all of her daily routines and what good of a job she does taking care of herself. Her memory and open mindedness continue to astound me. Every person she walked by she greeted by name from fellow residents to staff, even maintenance and cleaning crewmembers!
Also, the first night I arrived, we decided to go out to dinner. I saw her walk over to her mac computer and open up her Internet browser. I asked what she was doing. She said, “Oh, just goggling the address of the restaurant”. I was floored and I think most people would find this pretty impressive. Does your Grandma or Grandpa Google?
Alice’s attitude and open mindedness about technology is pretty unique for her age group. After becoming a widow, she learned how to use a computer, the Internet, and email. It was a team effort between her children and grandchildren to teach her how to use this technology. As a result, she now checks her e-mail everyday, buys things on Amazon and the Home Shopping Network, skypes with family members, and uses online checking to pay bills and track spending. I like it when she emails me jokes or asks to learn something new on her smartphone. This trip she mastered the flashlight app and we are working on the camera.
Many millennials like me are becoming caregivers for their aging parents and grandparents. According to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, there is a current surge of millennial caregivers (age 18-34) who care for adult family members, which accounts for 25% of all U.S. caregivers. Many of whom are considered long-distance caregivers. This is not an easy task and can be very draining both emotionally and physically. In the four days I was with my grandmother, I tracked 40,000 steps and did lots of schlepping. Some of the things we did included purchasing and setting up a newer and easier to use smartphone, getting a better walker, buying medical supplies, going to Costco, and shopping for groceries. She was recently told to seriously reduce sodium in her diet so when we went to Trader Joes I showed her how to read nutritional labels.
It was easy to see for me how being a full time caregiver plus having a job would be extremely difficult. I would imagine it is likely that many millennial long-distance caregivers suffer from depression because of the guilt they feel about not being able to visit their aging loved ones. Furthermore, in my experience the majority of resources for caregivers are aimed at adult children 40-60, which doesn’t much help those 18-34. I am hopeful that with the rise of the millennial caregiver, there will be new and improved resources to help them.
Another possible benefit I can imagine will be that they will use technology to help solve current problems and issues facing seniors. One that I saw first hand is that many senior products are actually created with a caregiver in mind and therefore force the elder to rely on that person. Instead of fostering independence, they disable it when it is impossible for the senior to do something for himself or herself. For example, some elders use portable oxygen tanks, but did you know the shut off valve requires an Allen wrench? Many seniors have arthritis, which would make this task nearly impossible and would require a caregiver or someone else to do that for them. Furthermore, the walkers that I saw the majority of folks using in my grandma’s facility are bulky and difficult to collapse. In the future, I’d like these types of problems with current durable medical equipment solved by millennials.
Overall, my experience with grandmother gave me a preview of the types of things that I will likely see as my Baby Boomer parents now aged 69 and 65. Spend just a short amount of time in an assisted or independent living facility near you and you’ll see that the people who took good care of themselves before they “got old” are the ones who are doing the best now because those habits are still in place. The ones that didn’t are experiencing far lesser quality of life. I enjoy spending time with seniors and find that besides their interesting life experiences and wisdom to share they often have a great attitude. My grandmother says her legacy is to “leave em laughing” and I hope that when I am 94 I can be fortunate enough to live life like she did and do the same!
by Jessica Davis, Marketing Director at AgingParents.com & AgingInvestor.com
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