PHOENIX — When you think of a millennial, what image comes to mind?
It may be a young person, just starting their career or family. You may not realize that many millennials are also caring for a parent suffering from dementia.
Tara Lowy became a caregiver in her twenties when her mom, Diane Scheel, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. For the past seven years, she has been caring for her mom, along with her dad, Randy, and her older sister, Andrea. But, Tara admits she never thought she would be in this position.
Tara has just gotten married and was starting her own life and her career when she found out about the final diagnosis.
“I remember getting a call. I was pulling into the driveway,” she said. “I just ran in the house crying. My husband was home, and he was, like, ‘what! I can’t believe that.’”
So the entire family came together to help Diane live her daily life. That also included her young niece and nephew.
“I mean, you’ve got to be there for your parents. They were there for you,” Tara said.
Three years ago, Tara had even more added to her plate. Her son Landon was born.
“I was worried that she was going to forget about him,” Tara said about her mom. “But she wakes up every morning, saying ‘do we get to see Landon today’ and their connection, that they have is incredible. She never loses her motherly instincts with him.”
Now, Tara is raising her son along with her husband, while also working as an athletic trainer at a Scottsdale school and caring for her mom. Diane needs help with most everything, including dressing, getting into a car, and doing makeup. Randy admits he has learned how to put on his wife’s mascara.
Melissa Del-Colle, the Central Arizona Regional Director for the Alzheimer’s Association in Phoenix, said that Tara and her family are far from alone.
“In Arizona, we have about 170,000 people with the diagnosis. That translates to about 340,000 caregivers,” Del-Colle said.
That means one out of every four caregivers are millennials. This, Del-Colle said, is creating a so-called “sandwich generation”; a generation of young adults caring for their parents and raising their young children.
Del-Colle explains this is not something experts saw 15 years ago.
“We are doing a better job of identifying Alzheimer’s disease and the other dementias earlier,” she adds. “That forces family members in a lot of ways to step up and be caregivers before they ever consider they would have to do so. So it’s a much bigger group, and it’s growing faster, and it will continue to do so.”
However, it’s still not the norm. That puts this group of millennial caregivers in a different place in their lives than their peers. Melissa said that could make them feel like they do not know where they fit.
“They have this feeling that they’re not in step with their peers anymore,” Del-Colle said.
She explains that is why finding support is so essential for these caregivers.
For Tara, that is where football came into her life. Every year she takes part in the annual Blondes versus Brunettes Flag Football Tournament. The game raises money for the Alzheimer’s Association. Tara says it is not just a game for her, but also a place where she has found others like her and people to lean on who understands what it is like to care for someone with this degenerative condition.
“I have about 60 girlfriends total, that have my back and my mom’s back. They’d bend over backward for her and haven’t even met her,” Tara says.
The game also means to the world to her mom.
“And what gets me is you say ‘I did this for you,’” Diane says of her daughter’s efforts to give back while giving her all to help her mom.
There are many resources for anyone who is a caregiver. The Alzheimer’s Association has a hotline you can call. You can remain anonymous and ask them about the support group, services, and even about symptoms. Call the helpline at (800) 272-3900 or go to www.alz.org.
You can also catch next year’s Blondes versus Brunette’s game in April. It’s typically the last Saturday of the month. You can also keep up with their goals and fundraisers by going to their webpage here.