Article Series

Finding Balance for the Sandwich Generation

Article submitted by Inga Jermaine

If you know someone who is juggling care needs for an aging parent, in addition to caring for their own children; then you know someone in the “sandwich” generation. These people find themselves “sandwiched” between two generations that need regular assistance and supervision. According to the Pew Research Center, one out of every eight Americans (around 12.5%) between the ages of 40 and 60 are simultaneously raising a child, holding down a job and caring for an elderly parent. In fact, the National Alliance for Caregiving estimates that 12.9 million people care for both children and parents.

While caring for family members can be rewarding, the stress related to caring for two generations can often strain relationships as well physical health and mental health. Caregiving duties usually fall to the women in the family. A National Alliance for Caregiving study showed that approximately 66 % of family caregivers are women. The typical caregiver is a 49 year old woman caring for her widowed 69 year old mother who does not live with her; and more than 37% have children or grandchildren under 18 years old living with them.

Balance is essential for the “sandwiched” caregiver and it is helpful to prioritize and find ways to combine caregiving tasks when possible. Taking simple but important steps for self-care might include:

  • joining a support group
  • getting adequate sleep
  • eating nutritious meals
  • exercising daily
  • getting a massage

These straightforward suggestions will help the caregiver to maintain their energy level and ability to respond to crises. Involving children in caregiving of the older adult and bringing the older adult to children’s activities are excellent ways to manage caregiving tasks. This can also help a child and the older adult to become more involved with each other’s activities.

Another way to balance the role of caregiving with the activities of life and the caregiver’s well-being is Respite Care. Respite Care is short term care that helps a family take a break from the daily routine and stress of caring for a loved one. It can be provided in the client's home or in a variety of out-of-home settings. With time to focus on other things and being able to have some time for them self, respite is often just what the doctor ordered for a caregiver’s own well-being.

Unfortunately there are concerns with regards to families understanding the importance of respite care, especially as it pertains to caring for people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. It can be difficult for a caregiver to feel at ease leaving their loved one; therefore, families that care for loved ones with Alzheimer's or dementia may struggle to get sufficient respite care. Finding a trusted source for respite care that is appropriate for an Alzheimer’s or dementia person is vital otherwise this will ultimately lead to a decline in the caregiver’s health and well-being and as a result, the person with Alzheimer’s disease may not be cared for adequately.

Respite Care can be provided by companies that provide in-home care and can be provided on a regular basis, lasting from a few hours to overnight. This popular respite choice enables individuals to remain in their own environments and can be invaluable for family members who function as caregivers. The in-home care agencies can provide caregivers that are knowledgeable and appropriately skilled in the care of Alzheimer’s/dementia cases as well as other specific needs of the patient and family.

Many Assisted Living Communities also offer respite care in the form of temporary stays at their facilities. "This can ease people into the idea of living in an Assisted Living Community or Residential Care Home for the Elderly,” says Mary Weathers, a Registered Nurse and Franchise Owner with Always Best Care Senior Services in Flagler County, Florida. "The usual pathway is to come in for a short stay and ultimately, if they like it, move them into a more long-term stay,” says Weathers.

If you are a “sandwiched” caregiver, it is important to make sure you make the effort to take care of yourself so that you can continue to provide care for your loved one and finding that balance is a necessity. It's crucial for caregivers to take a break periodically and finding a trusted source for respite care is essential. All of these things will help ensure that the person acting as the caregiver does not end up being the person needing care.

Posted November 2012 on