You may be among 20 million Americans caught in what is called the “Sandwich Generation,” a growing number of individuals taking care of their children and aging parents at the same time. If you are, take solace in knowing that help is available.
As our population gets older, more and more people will become caregivers. According to the National Institute on Aging, 5.2 million people in the United States are currently affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and the majority of cases are diagnosed in people older than 60. With the first wave of Baby Boomers turning 65 this year, this number is expected to skyrocket over the next several years.
As more people develop the disease, millions of others will become caregivers in need of support and guidance. They are known as the “Sandwich Generation” – those who find themselves “squeezed in between caring for their children and their elderly parents or other older family members. Recently, the challenges faced by this subset of caregivers have garnered long-overdue attention from both elder/patient care experts and the mainstream media.
A Juggling Act
The typical American sandwich generation caregiver is female, in her mid-forties, married, employed, and caring for both her family and an elderly parent. In recent years, more and more men are finding themselves caught in between the generations as well. According to the Pew Research Center, about 13 percent of Americans aged 40 to 60 are both raising a child and caring for a parent. On top of that, seven to 10 million adults are caring for aging parents long distance, which makes it much more difficult to provide consistent care. And these numbers are projected to increase. U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of older Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030, to more than 70 million.
To complicate matters further, an ever-growing segment of sandwich generation families live in rural communities – removed from readily available and professionally organized support services and care networks. But regardless of where you live, providing for both young children and elderly parents requires a positive attitude and a proactive approach to caregiving issues.
Ease Your Burden
The demanding role of caring for loved ones can take a serious toll. Stressed to their limits, many suffer from frustration, anger, guilt, loneliness and/or exhaustion. Common concerns include:
- How do I split my time between my children/family and my elder loved one?
- How do I find time for my marriage?
- How do I find time for me?
- How do I find the right resources for myself and my loved one?
- How do I deal with feelings of guilt for not being perfect?
In order to alleviate some of these stressors, you first need to recognize that you need time to meet your own physical and emotional needs. Womenshealth.gov, the federal government source for women’s health information, suggests the following tips to help caregivers ease their stress:
- Identify resources in your community.
- Ask for and accept help.
- If you need financial assistance, don’t be afraid to ask family members to contribute their fair share.
- Say “no” to requests that can drain your energy, such as hosting holiday meals.
- Don’t feel guilty that you’re not the “perfect” caregiver; there’s no such thing.
- Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine.
- Stay in touch with family and friends.
- Make time each week to do something that you want to do.
- Take some time to be physically active, eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep.
- Keep your sense of humor.
We often don’t choose the responsibilities that are thrust upon us, but the way we respond to them makes a big difference in our overall quality of life. Caring for loved ones, although full of challenges and frustrations, can also be very rewarding. By creating a healthy balance in your life, you can realize a host of positive benefits – including improved relationships, satisfaction from doing a job well, and a heightened sense of value and self-esteem.
Article by Nancy Squillacioti
Nancy Squillacioti is the executive director of the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Resource Center, a nonprofit agency that has been serving caregivers and families of those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias for 27 years.