When Diane Darby Beach, Ed.D., was working on her dissertation in the 1990s, she had trouble finding enough subjects: adolescent children living with a family member that had Alzheimer's Disease.
Today, there are more children to choose from for studies, but instead of living with a grandparent, these young men and women are helping a parent who has early onset Alzheimer's or another form of dementia.
These often are children born to older parents in their 40s or who were adopted by an older parent. Also, 1 in 8 children in the U.S. are being raised by grandparents.
There has been much said and written about adult children sandwiched between taking care of their own children and their parents. But less known are children having the manage an older parent through diseases of aging. There is no doubt the experience impacts such a child in ways both small and profound.
Two years ago one such Missouri teenager was featured on CNN. "The most recent data available from the association, released in 2003, estimated that 250,000 U.S. kids under 18 are unpaid caregivers for people with Alzheimer's," according to the report. "'It's not at an age to care for a parent with Alzheimer's."
No doubt that number has grown just as the number of people diagnosed daily with Alzheimer's has ballooned.
One resource for children that might be useful is from the Alzheimer's Association called Kids & Teens. It too seems to recognize the growing phenomenon.
As professional and family caregivers, we need to mindful of younger members of society who may be struggling with aging parents and with far more limited emotional and financial resources. And we need to pay more attention since they are our future.