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Easing the Way of the Sandwich Generation

| Monte Schwartz

Recently we received a phone call from an adult son. His parents live in the Quad Cities area, and even though he lives a couple hours away, he is one of the closest and most involved of the children. Due to concerns over his father’s health, they were considering various options, such as home health care, independent living, and assisted living.

Here is the interesting, though not at all uncommon, part: it became obvious shortly into the conversation that he was not really calling for his father at all. Sure, we discussed care needs (first and foremost), finances, location, goals, etc., in regard to helping him with his father. However, once we were able to delve a little deeper into the son’s motivations it became clear, and he even admitted, that his main reason for contacting us was for his mom, the person who had been dad’s primary caregiver up to that point. She had always been in good health and up to the task. Yet the son could see that it was beginning to take its toll and that it was likely to only get worse.

Many of the themes that we bring up when doing presentations clearly resonate with the audience members who have had some experience caring for an elderly loved one. None more so than discussions of caregiver stress. And small wonder. We all know from experience the strain of caregiving. Studies also seem to support what we suspect intuitively. Experts, for example, note the emotional burden carried by caregivers. Besides stress, they are likely to feel isolated, burned out, and have an overall sense of being overwhelmed. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, between 40 and 70 percent of caregivers are stressed enough to show symptoms of clinical depression.

All of this obviously takes a physical toll as well. The Shriver Report, a study conducted by Maria Shriver and the Alzheimer’s Association, estimated that “caregivers’ own health care costs an additional $4 billion dollars a year due to the emotional and physical stress and strain of caregiving.” Billion with a “b” as the saying goes. That is a lot.

In the example cited above, this is where the wife was finding herself. Moreover, this is where the son was starting to find himself. As his mom needed to give up the role of caregiver, the son tried to fill the void, not easy to do from out of town. A working professional, by the time he had found us, he had burned through all of his vacation days.

Not only that, he had his own wife and kids to worry about, and he wasn’t above letting me know that his own marriage was suffering as a result of all of this. However one defines it, he clearly self-identified as a member of the “sandwich generation”—trying to balance the needs of his own growing children with those of his aging parents.

This, as many of you know from first-hand experience, is no easy task and obviously adds another dimension to the already challenging role of caregiver. An article on the Mayo Clinic website calls it “the ‘perfect storm’ for stress.” Psychologist Katherine Nordal of the American Psychological Association says the stress these caregivers feel shouldn’t be surprising. “The worry of your parents’ health, and your children’s well-being as well as the financial concern of putting kids through college and saving for your own retirement is a lot to handle.”

July, coincidentally enough, is actually National Sandwich Generation Month. Try to make it a priority to give yourself a break if you are a member of this group or helping out if you know someone who is. (The following words of the Dalai Lama come to mind: “How can we be expected to care for others if we do not care for ourselves.”)

The health of caregivers often seems to decline sooner than it would otherwise, as they tend to neglect their own health and miss their own doctor’s appointments. Not only that, AgingCare.com references a study showing that about 30 percent of caregivers pass away sooner than those they are caring for. Some studies put it at a higher number. These were the concerns of the adult son who contacted us. He loved and wanted the best for his dad, but was also concerned over his mom’s suddenly declining health (not to mention his own stress and that of his family).

Working Through the Process

After our initial phone conversation, we set up a time to meet the adult son and his family in person. We meet families wherever it is most convenient for them: that could be at our office, a doctor’s office, a coffee shop, etc. Most of the time that best place is the family’s living room. That is usually where they are most comfortable. It’s also helpful for us in that we can get a sense of their home life, get a first-hand look at what their care needs might be, and start getting an idea of what options would be best for their particular circumstances. Given that many of the people that we work with are the adult children, we also make ourselves available evenings and weekends in case that is the best time for the family.

In this case, we did meet the couple in the comfort of their own home with their son and daughter-in-law present. In the end, we determined that an assisted living community would be the best course of action. In coming to this decision, they were worried what might happen to mom or dad at home should something happen to one or the other. It also gave the kids the peace of mind they needed in knowing that their parents were getting the appropriate level of care for their current needs.

Once we determined, along with the family, the likely best options, we called and set up tours with a couple assisted living communities. We also accompanied the family on their tours, helping them with question or pointing out things they might have missed. They loved both communities, but ended up choosing one that better fit their particular interests and personalities.

Our services are free to families, so all of the help and guidance that we provided came at no cost to them. We simply get reimbursed from the partners that we work with. We also realize that this is never a one size fits all type of process and that each family and situation will be unique in any number of ways. We take the time needed to listen to their wants, worries, needs, and fears. The final decision is always the family’s; we simply act as a trusted guide to help them come to the best decision possible for their situation.

We mentioned in the beginning that one of the themes of our presentations that always elicits strong feedback is that of caregiver stress. One other comment that we have heard without fail over the four years that we have been in business is that “I wish I would have known about your services sooner.”

Nobody can do it all, and nobody has to go it alone. The best of us need help with any number of things in life and this one is no different. The family was a good loving family who, through no fault of their own, didn’t know where to begin or what options were available, feeling “alone” and “scared” as so many families do. In the end, they couldn’t have been more grateful. “We couldn’t have done this without you.”


This article originally appeared in the July issue of Healthy Cells Magazine - http://www.healthycellsmagazine.com/