Over the course of two decades, 53-year-old Guillermo Argueta’s diabetes developed into cataracts and later resulted in kidney failure. That was when his sister, Ana Argueta, realized that his care was more than she could take on.
So Guillermo’s daughter Lorena stepped up. At just 26 years old, she became her father’s primary caregiver this May.
“His health issues were in decline,” says the Houston medical scheduler. “Two months ago, he was at stage 2 kidney disease, and now he’s at stage 5.”
“We felt like (my aunt) could not care for him in the way he needed; she has two children and did not have time.”
So, every day, Lorena, with help from her brother, 25-year-old Guillermo Argueta Jr., helps her blind father use the bathroom and get dressed. She cooks his meals, and administers his insulin and medication three times a day.
Lorena is one of a growing number of Hispanic millennial caregivers. According to a 2018 report from AARP , 38 percent of Hispanic family caregivers are between the ages of 18 and 34, making them the youngest ethnic group providing care, taking on additional responsibilities in their younger years that can have lasting impacts as they build their own careers or families. In comparison, 34 percent of African-American caregivers and just 17 percent of white caregivers are millennial.
There are many reasons why more young Hispanics are becoming caregivers, says Jason Resendez, executive director of the Latinos Against Alzheimer’s Coalition.
Latinos are making up a larger share of the 65 and older age group, and Latino families are more likely to live in intergenerational households, compared to non-Hispanic whites, he says. The Pew Research Centerreported in 2016 that 29 percent of Hispanic families were cohabiting, compared to 20 percent nationally.
There are also cultural factors, says Nicolas Peña, communications specialist for the National Hispanic Council on Aging. “Taking care of a loved one in Latino culture is something that we find honor in: Taking care of the grandparents is not something I must do, but something that I want to do,” he says.
A role reversal
That’s true for Lorena Argueta, who feels “a sense of duty” to care for her parents. “It almost feels like it’s a role reversal,” she says. “Growing up in a Hispanic household, they expect you to stay living with them (as you grow up).”
With that duty comes sacrifice, she says. “I can’t do what most 20-something-year-olds do, like socialize on the weekends.”
Hispanic millennial caregivers also often help translate and navigate the health care bureaucracy for their older relatives.
Guillermo Argueta arrived in the United States from El Salvador in the 1980s and doesn’t speak fluent English. He also doesn’t have health insurance, which means he must go to the county hospital for his two or three medical appointments a month. He does receive discounted care for the uninsured. “I always see that there’s a need for bilingual employees,” Lorena says.
Helping older relatives through a complicated system forces caregivers “to grow up pretty quickly and be an advocate,” Resendez says.
Younger Hispanics also spend more hours working outside the home than other groups while they are caring for family members — meaning they face more pressure to balance responsibilities at work and home. According toAARP , they work an average of 42 hours a week, seven hours more than their white counterparts.
High costs to finances and career
The competing pressures mean stress in the short term and, often, longer-term challenges as they try to build their own families or careers, says Jean Accius, vice president of the Long-Term Services & Supports and Livable Communities Group at the AARP Public Policy Institute. “As a result, this could impact their educational and career advancement, which could affect their long-term financial future.”
Lorena, for instance, had to cut her work hours after her father moved in with her. To pay off debt, Lorena had been working two jobs: a full-time job scheduling patient appointments for a hospital system plus a part-time gig delivering groceries. “But I can’t really hold up the second job,” she says.
“I’m budgeting very carefully,” she says. Thankfully, Lorena’s dad found a Catholic charity to help pay for his expenses and medication.
Some caregivers have additional challenges. Dementia caregivers are more likely to express emotional distress, Resendez says. About 1 in 6 millennial caregivers is providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s or other kind of dementia, according to a report by USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging and UsAgainstAlzheimer ’s.
Guillermo did have the help of a home health worker for a few hours a day while living with Lorena’s aunt, but now Guillermo Jr. is applying for a job with the agency so he can be paid to be his father’s caregiver.
But Lorena is concerned about what the future looks like. “I’m always worried if he’s going to have his needs met,” she says.
Guillermo may soon need dialysis for his failing kidneys, doctors have told Lorena. Without insurance, he will have to go to the emergency room, which would force her to take time off from work so she can take him and wait with him.
A stronger bond
Still, she’s taking caregiving one day at a time. While it’s difficult, she reminds herself: “I might not have him around very much longer.”
Caregiving has also given her time to bond with her father. For years during her childhood, Guillermo lived in El Salvador; and in Houston, Guillermo was always working or busy around the house.
“Our relationship was always lacking in that respect,” Lorena says.
Now, though, she says they’ve been able to connect over their faith, sometimes going to church together.
In difficult moments, she has leaned on her mother, who is separated from her father, and a close co-worker who has also cared for a parent. Recently, she also found support from some online caregiver groups.
“It helps put this in perspective, that things could always be worse, to be appreciative of the time you have with your dad.”
Benjamin Barrett contributed to this report.
Jullisa Treviño is a correspondent for MemoryWell