By John Darr, LCSW, CSADC
How do you know if you are in the sandwich generation? Most likely you are female, work full-time and devote a minimum of 20 hours per week to caregiving for an older adult and a child or an adult child. This often entails contributing financially to their support as well.
Sandwich generation caregivers tend to work late, have to take off early and are frequently interrupted by calls from medical personnel or those in their care. The stress leads them to exhaustion and the mental, emotional and physical problems that follow. Being a sandwich generation (SG) caregiver can have a serious effect on careers and can even lead to unexpected and unwanted early retirement.
SGs often encounter issues involving extended family. Arguments often revolve around sharing care duties, issues over autonomy versus dependence for those in their care, medical crises and decisions about institutionalization.
Caregivers are frequently involved in the financial support of those they care for. A 2013 PEW report found that 47 percent of adults age 40-59 have responsibility for a parent 65 or older and are raising a minor child or supporting an older child.
What can a caregiver do to lessen the stress and get some control over their hectic lives? Here are some suggestions.
- Locate your resources. Who is available for support? This can be family or friends who are willing to help, but you should also take advantage of state and federal agencies. The Department of Aging and Disability provides support for those 65 or older and will provide a free evaluation to let you know what services are available. Home health agencies are also available if your family member needs medical care.
- Engage the whole family. A frequent complaint I hear from caregivers is that "no one in the family will help me.” Upon further investigation, I often find that that they have either not asked anyone or they asked at some time in the past and were turned down. They often say, "Well, I would ask but my brothers and sisters have their own lives and are too busy" as if they don't have their own lives and are just as busy! It is crucial to let the family know what the stresses are and specifically what they can do to help.
- Talk about nursing homes and institutional care before it becomes a crisis. Have a frank talk with the elderly parent and the rest of the family before it is imminent. Planning ahead will result in a much easier transition for the whole family.
- Take time for yourself FIRST. Neglecting time for yourself is detrimental to your health! You need personal time for you (and your spouse if you are married). This means getting away -- even for a short time -- to get a break from the chaos.
- Find a group or start one yourself. Meeting with people who share the same stresses as you can help ease the burden. The local Division of Aging or your church can be a good resource for finding or starting a group.
- Call BJC EAP. An EAP is a great place to start. Ask them about resources available for child or elder care or schedule an appointment with a counselor to help you learn how to manage your stress and cope with family issues.
So, if you think that “working a straight nine to five” is “back in the good old days,” you are probably a sandwich generation caregiver. While it is stressful, it does not have to be overwhelming and can have its payoffs. By utilizing the resources available and paying attention to personal needs, this can become one of the most rewarding stages of your life.