The sandwich generation — who is caring for you?

The sandwich generation — who is caring for you?

According to a 2013 Pew research report, “Nearly half (47 percent) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older).

According to a 2013 Pew research report, “Nearly half (47 percent) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older).

by Ruth Tarantine — 

A social worker, Dorothy Miller, originally coined the term “sandwich generation” back in 1981 to describe women in their 30s to 40s who were sandwiched between young children and aging parents as their primary caregiver.

A lot has changed since then. Women are delaying having children, and seniors are living longer. Because of these added variables, the definition  of the sandwich generation has morphed along the way and tends to target both genders, with the predominant age range now from 40 to 65 years old.

According to a 2013 Pew research report, “Nearly half (47 percent) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). And about one in seven middle-aged adults (15 percent) provide financial support to both an aging parent and a child.” In 2005, the sandwich generation was largely made up of baby boomers.

Fast forward to 2014, and the baby boomers have started to age out of the sandwich generation and become the recipients of care from the new sandwich generation. Generation X is now the predominant demographic in the sandwich generation. In addition, Pew research reports three in ten Hispanic adults (31 percent) have a parent age 65 or older and a dependent child. This compares with 24 percent of whites and 21 percent of blacks. Compound this data with the growing number of children, dependent adult children and seniors who require complex care related to increased autism and chronic disease diagnosis, and the stress on the sandwich generation magnifies tenfold.

Who cares for the sandwich generation? In many cases, no one cares for this group of caregivers, who usually has the added burden of working a full-time job. Additionally, this group often has to juggle an unexpected hospitalization of their loved one with their career obligations. Many outsiders to this issue may think a hospitalization might give the caregiver some respite, when, in fact, most caregivers have an added stressor when a loved one is hospitalized, further complicating their already hectic daily routines.

Self-care is typically neglected by the sandwich generation. Learning to integrate simple self-care tips into your daily routine will help caregivers to stay healthy. The healthy caregiver provides a higher level of physical and emotional care to their loved one, which is a gift that keeps on giving.


Caregiving tips 

1. Be kind to yourself. Often we are kind to others while we push ourselves beyond our own limits. The first step in dealing with caregiver stress, anger or frustration is to care for yourself. Well-meaning friends and relatives often tell you to take care, but no one will actually tell you how to take care of yourself while supporting a loved one or sitting at his or her side at the hospital.

One of the first things to learn is to ask for and accept help. It is important to clearly identify your needs and acknowledge that you cannot do it all alone. This can be hard to do. Make a list of people you know who would be willing to help. Help does not necessarily mean caregiving, but every task or chore that is removed will give you a few more minutes of you time every day.

2. Take spontaneous and unplanned breaks. If your loved one is in the hospital and needs to have a test, give the nurse your cell number and go sit outside for 10 minutes. If caring for someone at home, consider the use of a wireless doorbell system to enable your loved one to call when needed. This allows the caregiver on duty the freedom to be in another room or go outside.

A walk to the mailbox can be a mini-vacation. Sun and, even rain, can be good for the soul. Exercise of any kind can help to release some of the frustration that caregivers experience.

3. Pack a caregiver bag of your own. Find an attractive cloth bag for essential personal items to take with you to the hospital for visitations with your loved one. Put in hand lotion, lip balm, a journal, a novel or any item that is soothing for you.

4. Be mindful and meditative. Every hospital has a chapel. Most have a chaplain, or at least on call. Consider utilizing available resources for prayer or reflection. Pick up a book on mindfulness meditation. Carry a book on mindfulness with you and read a passage or two when you have a few minutes. Use a journal to jot down your thoughts and feelings.

Being mindful reminds us to have gratitude for even the small mundane things — they can go away in a flash. When caring for your loved one, be mindful of how he or she feels, smells, talks, laughs, etc. Appreciate the beauty of it all. The memories you make in doing so can be conjured up at a moment’s notice — forever. Seize the opportunity to be present in the moment. Refuse to let stress or anger rob you of valuable time.

5. Nourish your body with healthy food. It is all too easy to rely on junk food and vending machines. Avoid using alcohol or drugs, including caffeine. These will only complicate things and add to the stress, anger and frustration. Eating healthy food will give you the physical and mental stamina to deal with whatever is thrown your way during the day. Ultimately, it will help you deal with adversity more effectively.

6. Sleep whenever you can. Many of us struggle with sleep, even without a life crisis. If you have an unexpected two-hour break in the middle of an afternoon, take a nap and refuse to feel guilty about it. Sleep, like healthy food, helps us better handle adversity. In addition to sleep, keep up with your own health needs. Don’t skip annual medical screenings or allow yourself to run out of prescription medicine. If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot do a good job of caring for your loved one.

7. Make sure to laugh, laugh, laugh. We all know the power of a good belly laugh. Try to see the humor in life.

8. Avoid hard and fast plans. Purchasing tickets for concerts or signing up to take a class and then being unable to attend can add to your frustration. You are often better off using any free time to take a walk, shop or even nap. Time becomes ever so precious. Learn to use it wisely.

9. Consider counseling. Many counselors specialize in anger, the stress of caregiving and grief. If you need help in getting through a stressful time in life, you are not weak or unusual. Think about what you need or want. Do you just want to talk to someone? Maybe a therapist or support group is what you need. If you think you might need medications, consult your PCP or a psychiatrist. Many caregivers have trouble sleeping or find themselves battling anxiety. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed to ask your doctor for medications to help with sleep or anxiety problems.

If your loved one is hospitalized and you are caring for him or her far from where you live, ask a nurse or doctor to refer you to the appropriate professional near the hospital. Health care providers and social workers are used to assist out-of-town visitors with their health care needs. Regardless of your location, if you are having difficulty coping with the anger or frustration of being a patient or caregiver, reach out to a mental health professional.

For those caregivers unable to leave the home but in need of support, many online support groups are available. Support groups for caregivers relating to specific diseases are constantly being added to the online community. For a list of current online support communities, type “online caregiver support group” into your computer search engine.

Source: Parker, K., & Patton, E. (2013). The Sandwich Generation: Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged Americans.


Ruth Tarantine serves as the Chair of Online Nursing Graduate Programs and nursing faculty at a private university. With 25 years of nursing experience, she holds a registered nurse diploma from Mercy Hospital School of Nursing, a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing, and a doctorate of nursing practice. She is the author of Against All Odds: How to Move From Provider-Centered to Patient-Centered Care.

Reprinted from the AzNetNews archives.

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