Early Burdens: Eldercare Falls on Young Shoulders

PHOTO: Suzette Armijo, 30, of Phoenix, right, oversees care of her 86-year-old grandmother, Elizabeth Armijo, left, a retired National Park Service ranger.

At 30, Suzette Armijo cares for her widowed 86-year-old grandmother, a retired National Park Service ranger in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease, while holding down a fulltime job, a part-time job and raising a 4-year-old son.

"This was nothing that I had planned for," says Armijo, who moved her grandmother Elizabeth Armijo into a nearby six-bed assisted living home because veterans' benefits "wouldn't pay for her to live with me." Still, she says, "I have to do everything for her, aside from her bathing. There's always something new going on with her medically."

Besides her fulltime marketing job with a Phoenix retirement community, Armijo supplements her income with outside consulting because "I do have to pay a portion of Grandma's bills."

Although she doesn't know anyone else her age doing what she's doing, she comes to her caregiving out of love for a woman who took care of so many others: "I don't feel torn because I know this is the way my Grandma was," Armijo said Thursday. "She took care of her parents. She took care of my grandfather. She took care of my little brother who had cancer when he was little. I grew up seeing that."

Suzette Armijo is among a generation of young adult caregivers, the majority of whom are women, navigating tough turf without a roadmap. Few of their contemporaries shoulder equivalent responsibilities. Members of the so-called sandwich generation, squeezed by parental caregiving and child-rearing, are a good 20 to 30 years older. As they try to tap into resources to help an ailing grandmother, Mom or Dad, these 20-somethings and 30-somethings are often on a lonely road. Armijo said she's drawn some of her strength from establishing a local young advocates group through the Alzheimer's Association. "You have to find something for yourself, otherwise you lose your mind."

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