How to Better Involve Millennials in Elder Care


How to Better Involve Millennials in Elder Care


I am a Millennial.

I write this as a millennial, and as a person who's been surrounded by "the millennial way" my entire life. (To state the obvious. After all, my peers are millennials, too).

However, I've also known that I cannot use myself as a proxy for standard millennial attitudes or behavior around the elderly. It'd be easier if I could, but my road here was longer than one may assume.

I'm abnormally passionate about this.

My heart has the softest spot for our aging population and has ever since I was young. My mom loves to tell stories about when I was a toddler and would stare at old people at the grocery store, even reaching to kiss an old gentleman at one point (something that's cute from a 2-year-old, but probably questionable from a grown adult now). I've also volunteered at assisted living facilities and for private clients for more than a decade.

Because I know my attitude is not common, I've been obsessed with trying to figure out what my peers think about our aging population, why they behave the way they do, or why they lack action altogether.

Note: To be fair, not every millennial fits the standard mold. People are unique, ever-changing and I don't know everything or have the formula for a perfect pill! Regardless, today and every day along the way, we can take what we've observed generally and try to apply it when thinking up solutions.

Here's a big piece of the puzzle we can think about: Millennials have grown up with technology and immediacy. These things effect the way we see the world and our behavior in it. The ways we perceive aging relatives and how we engage with them are no exception. More on this in a later piece.

Today I encourage our industry to pause and consider the unique needs of upcoming generations. The success of our current and future solutions in elder care depends on it.

How to Better Involve Millennials in Elder Care

Focus on wellness care.

It should be noted that "caregiving" in the context of millennials probably doesn't mean giving baths or managing medications (though it could). Instead, let's focus on the fact that millennials can contribute a lot in terms of wellness care. They can be providers of love, connection, communication, joy. An elder's emotional state is incredibly important, too! When asking younger family members to contribute to care, start today by focusing on social and intellectual tasks.

Acknowledge differing communication preferences.

One of the biggest ways technology has morphed millennials into a unique generation is communication. Text and email and social media are natural for us. We find it meaningful. While an elder may use technology now, I've observed they don't get the same meaning from it. Older generations grew up with direct and personal communication (think: phone call, mail or visit). Instead of asking each generation to mold to the preferences of the other, can millennials and elders meet in the middle? Can both be served in the best way for them?

Make it easy to do from anywhere.

The millennial generation is on-the-go. Technology has created a world with more and more opportunities for us to move away from home and travel the world. The likelihood that a millennial doesn't visit their elderly relative in-person each week is high. We need to identify ways millennials can provide care from both near and far. Daily caregivers can attest to this. They're the ones present each day while other family members pop in and out periodically. If there's a routine that non-primary caregivers can do to contribute remotely (again, perhaps prioritizing wellness care), then it's more likely to latch on.

Ensure there is positive feedback.

Phones, apps, and computer programs have trained millennials to expect immediate feedback. Without positive feedback, our brain doesn't get the reward signal we're used to getting. And without that reward, our brain won't be excited to do it again. (If you're interested in knowing more of the science behind this, research dopamine and the iPhone.) Positive feedback can come from you or from the elder and come in many different forms.

What have you experienced? There's a lot to discuss here. I invite you to continue this conversation on Twitter @carolynheard and click 'follow' for future articles on this topic.

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Cate McCarty

Very incite-ful. Thank you. I miss my millennial children in person and phone and am learning that text and even video chat go along way in that connection. Honestly have found more intimacy in virtual visits than live just because of how much needs to be orchestrated when "live" visits are involved.


The site for sending the photos is brilliant. Well, done! The tips on how to engage millennials are spot on and gave me insight that I simply would not have had were it not for your post. Bravo! I am going to find your website and pay attention.

Carolyn McRae (@carolynheard)

Thank you for reading, Susan!