When COVID-19 first took hold in the US, Carla Pratico's priority immediately shifted to her parents.
"Both of my parents are older, they're Baby Boomers, so they're kind of hitting that age bracket where I knew there could be something with them, that I wanted to be able to kind of protect them from the outside world, that was kind of a role that I felt was necessary to go down and help guard them from the world and let them be truly isolated," Pratico told CBN News.
"My dad is wheelchair-bound and my mom is his full-time caregiver. So it was like if something happened, let's say, God forbid, something happened to my dad, well I wouldn't be able to see him or go visit. So that was part of it, just being available." Pratico continued.
The 60-plus group is considered high-risk in a COVID-19 world, even if they're otherwise healthy. According to a New York Life study, that's thrusting Millennials into the role of caretaker at an accelerated rate.
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The study finds 40 percent of Millennials are now likely to be caring for an elderly parent, compared with 34 percent of Gen Xers and 13 percent of Boomers.
"The interesting thing with the pandemic is that we've had many caregivers who were not in caregiving situations before, that now their loved ones are being very very careful. As we are over the age of 60, etc. we need to be taking very good safety precautions for ourselves with the pandemic. Anyone who has any type of a pre-existing condition that makes them more vulnerable to getting very sick from the virus, they aren't going out as much they aren't going grocery shopping and doing things like that," explained Amy Goyer, a caregiving expert with AARP.
Goyer says young caregivers face unique challenges.
"The majority of them are working, so they're juggling the caregiving with their work roles, and now with the pandemic, many of them are working from home. They may be raising a young family and so they are also dealing with that...if they are young parents they may have children who are learning at home and if they're not learning at home, sometimes they're still trying to help," Goyer said.
Practico would help act as a full-time caretaker for her dad to give her mom a break. She found it nearly impossible to juggle work with his care.
"I mean it's a full-time job. Whenever my mom would leave I blocked out my work schedule for three days. I knew I was going to get nothing done," Pratico explained.
After six months, other family members stepped in to help and the Praticos decided to return home to New York City. Still, research shows a majority of Millennials predict they will continue providing financial, housing, or care-giving support even after the pandemic ends. A factor that could take a long-term toll.
"We know that, financially, caregivers are often very strapped. They spend an average of about $7,000 a year on their loved one's care and right now with the pandemic, many people are losing their jobs or they're having a lower income at this time. Many are financially strapped anyway and you add caregiving on top of that and it can be really, really difficult," said Goyer.
Therran Robinson, 28, has been a caregiver for more than 20 years. Doctors diagnosed his mother with a terminal autoimmune disease when he was just in middle school
Incredibly driven, Robinson worked to juggle a career with his care-giving responsibilities. Then the pandemic changed the game. Suddenly, keeping his mom safe meant staying home.
"What I do, working with kids, I'm seeing kids all day long. I had to, another sacrifice, stop my job, put that on hold so I could just come home and make sure my mom's OK and make sure I self-quarantine," Robinson told CBN News.
Loneliness is another challenging reality for a caregiver, one exacerbated by this ongoing health crisis.
"The pandemic is just blowing that up. Everyone is so much more aware of the issues of isolation and that it's bad for us. It's detrimental to our health, it's worse than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it's actually worse for our health than obesity," Goyer said.
In this case, going online is a blessing for Robinson and many other Millennials.
"Technology is just amazing...for example on Facebook I follow three different groups for caregivers and I follow three different groups for her auto-immune diseases. So those people are a huge support because I get so much advice from those people who have been caregivers for 30, 20, 15, 5 years," said Robinson.
Goyer says taking advantage of resources specifically for caregivers and having a support system is especially important this time of year.
"The pandemic is really taking a toll in terms of caregivers, but it's also taking a toll with the holidays, it's an extra added wrinkle," she said.
According to a recent AARP survey, the pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental health of 44 percent of the caregivers surveyed and nearly half (46 percent) of the people they tend to. Some care recipients may feel depressed or abandoned or have difficulty understanding the changes due to cognitive issues.
If you're feeling down AARP has a family caregivers support group on Facebook and a telephone support line at 1-877-333-5885.
The trend of Millennials stepping in to help aging family members is only expected to grow. Experts say it's imperative for this generation to begin factoring this into their financial plans, as the pandemic has already highlighted how important it is to prepare for the unexpected.