Harnessing the power of millennials to further long-term care

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Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer
Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer

The impending wave of aging individuals, requiring all kinds of care and support, is unlike anything we've seen before. So, maybe long-term care's counterpunch should come from an unorthodox direction: Why not tap into millennial mojo before you encounter a boomer bust?

Of course I'm not saying your facility beds can be filled with (allegedly) bratty 20-year-olds. Rather, the baby boomlets, birthed by the silver tsunami-ites, are becoming just as big and important a force for long-term care as their parents.

Think about it. My generation has seemingly become more politically active than ever, given the Me Too movement, women's rights demonstrations after the 2016 election, and “March for Our Lives” protests in the wake of numerous school shootings. Why not harness some of that energy when it comes to your own advocacy agenda?

Not to mention, about one-quarter of caregivers are between the age of 18 and 34, according to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, and each delivers roughly 20 hours of care weekly. As our population gradually grays — aging more individuals out of nursing and other LTC-related positions — so too will your facilities increasingly rely on baby boomlets to provide care.

All of this is a backdrop for a clever social media campaign launched by LeadingAge on Thursday. Called “Carry the Conversation,” the effort aims to build awareness of what the aging services association sees as a growing number of millennial providers in the profession, coupled with a lack of affordable long-term services and supports, or “LTSS” as they call it, that are offered to them and their family members.

“Millennials are a fast-growing group among the 40 million family caregivers in the United States today. They know, firsthand, the impact of America's haphazard approach to financing and delivery of LTSS — the critical, daily tasks like bathing, dressing, administering medication and making meals,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said in the announcement. “Our current LTSS system places enormous pressure on caregivers and the people they support. As we continue to push for reforms and new solutions, millennials must be part of this discussion.”

The advocacy group is urging its 6,000 aging services members on and offering help “building an army of advocates” who, given the daunting numbers, will feel compelled to contact their lawmakers whenever legislation in this realm pops up, and to talk about these issues with family and friends.

I'll admit, as a millennial myself, with a mother who is north of 70 years old and in-laws who are around 60, I haven't given this topic much thought at all, even while recently getting to know long-term care more intimately. But the numbers, shared in this LeadingAge one-pager, scare the living daylights out of me. In-home assistance costs about $48,000 per year on average, with the number jumping to $96,000 for nursing homes. Ouch.

About half of that comes out of the pockets of family members like me, with Medicare not covering most of such services. Few my age will have any idea of the magnitude, to be honest, so consider a lot of young people adequately will be freaked out. Many others of my generation have misconceptions about how LTSS are paid for, and what the government does and does not cover, Amanda Marr, VP of communications at LeadingAge, tells me.

The first step for your own facility is building awareness among millennials and adding them to your own advocacy army, followed by education and conversation. (More tools and ideas to help in this endeavor can be found here.)

We millennials are constantly staring at our phones, so why not start the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram using the hashtag #CarryTheConvo? Good idea.

“We have to meet them where they are: That's why we're starting with awareness campaign using social media. And we have to tell the stories of current millennial caregivers,” Marr says.

Just one suggestion from me: Maybe skip the Facebook. It's not really cool anymore, anyway.

Follow McKnight's millennial Staff Writer Marty Stempniak @mstempniak.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.