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Young caregivers balance work, family needs

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Poki’i Balaz, 35, has been taking care of her father, John Matthew Keali’ihe’ehaluokakalani Balaz, 77, who has Alzheimers, for the past six years. Poki’i is a doctor who specializes in geriatric neurology and moved from California to assist her mother with the care of her father. She plans to return to her medical practice early next year but has taken time off to be with her dad and family full time. She is pictured with her father at their Aiea home.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Poki‘i Balaz, 35, has been taking care of her father, John Balaz, 77, who has Alzheimers, for the past six years. She is pictured showing a family picture to her father with her nephew Hoopiookalani Balaz.

Like many millennials, Poki‘i Balaz does gig work.

She works when she can, taking care of patients, many in the Native Hawaiian community, for Hawaii Pacific Neuroscience. She also conducts workshops for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients.

Her primary job is unpaid — taking care of her father, who is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, and her mother, who has difficulty walking and using her hands.

Balaz, 35, is one of an increasing number of millennials who are family caregivers. New AARP research estimates one in four caregivers in the U.S. are millennials.

Balaz put herself through school and earned a doctorate in nursing, specializing in geriatric neurology.

Her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010, when Balaz was in college, influencing her choice of specialization.

“As I learned about it, I just got more interested in the brain and disease,” Balaz said.

After graduation, she worked at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, but when her mother could no longer care for her father and needed care herself, she came home.

Her parents want to age and die at home and she’s not willing to put them in a nursing home.

“It’s an honor and a privilege (to be a caregiver),” Balaz said. “He’s my father. I would do it all over again.”

There are also moments that make caregiving worthwhile, she said.

Her father is not able speak anymore. But, “he can still smile. He can still bat his eyelashes. He looks up and gives me the biggest smile I’ve ever seen and I’m just in high spirits again.”

As a certified trainer for Alzheimer’s caregivers, Balaz emphasizes that caregivers need to make taking care of themselves a priority. She urges other caregivers to join a support group so they know they are not alone.

Balaz meditates in the morning, sometimes waking up early to go to the beach and watch the sunrise. Other family members help with caregiving and she’s able to hike while they watch her parents for a couple of days a month.

Balaz said she’s noticing more of her peers and younger people becoming caregivers. Some of her friends are living at home — not because of finances — but because they need to watch their parents. In her professional practice, she’s also seeing younger people — sometimes teenagers — who are the primary caregivers for their grandparents.

This Thanksgiving, Balaz’s family will gather at the family home for Hawaiian food and turkey. It’s where Thanksgiving has always been held and this may be her father’s last Thanksgiving. The family tradition is for everyone to share memories of past Thanksgivings.

Balaz said her father made a special apple stuffing, which she never got the recipe for, and cooked the turkey.

“He was always in a happy mood, smiling and singing,” she said. “I have memories of him walking through the house and checking on the turkey, getting it ready.”

Her father, she said, would take each child aside for a one-on-one chat and tell them why he was “thankful for us.”

Her wish for the holidays: “If this is his last with us, I hope it’s an awesome season and he is here for the New Year.”

RESOURCES

November is National Family Caregivers Month. This Thanksgiving, thank a caregiver for all they do and let them know you support them.

** Tips and resources for caregivers: AARP.org/caregiving

** Caregivers of dementia patients: Alzheimer’s Association at Alz.org

BY THE NUMBERS

** 1 in 4: Number of millennial family caregivers

** 73: Percentage of millennial family caregivers who feel under pressure to balance work and caregiving

** 20: Average hours per week a millennials spends caregiving.

**53: Percentage of millennial family caregivers who work full time

** 1 in 3: Number of family caregivers who make less than $30,000 a year

MILLENNIAL CAREGIVERS BY THE NUMBERS

40 million – number of family caregivers in the U.S.

1 in 4 – number of millennial family caregivers

44 — Percentage of millennial family caregivers who are single and never married

47 — Percentage of millennial family caregivers who are men

73 – percentage of millennial family caregivers who feel under pressure to balance work and caregiving

20 hours a week —- average time a millennial caregiver spends caregiving.

53 percent – percentage of millennial family caregivers who work full time

1 in 3 – number of family caregivers who make less than $30,000 a year.

36 hours per week – average number of hours millennial caregivers work per week

20 hours a week —- average time a millennial caregiver spends caregiving.

$6,800 – Average out-of-pocket caregiving spending by millennial family caregivers.

43 – Percentage of millennial family caregivers who help a parent or parent-in-law

65- Percentage of millennial family caregivers who take care of their mother.

33 percent – Percentage of millennial family caregivers who care for someone with emotional or mental health issues.

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