If you know someone who is caring for an aging parent in Michigan at the same time they are raising a family, you know a member of the Sandwich Generation. These men and women are caught in the middle of their need to care for their younger families and their duty and desire to care for their older parents.
Caregivers in the Sandwich Generation might be responsible for meal preparation, shopping, housekeeping and transportation for parents and for their own children. They also might manage medication and therapy schedules, and oversee a senior’s financial matters. These dual caregivers are essentially running two busy households.
When you consider that 60% of these caregivers also have jobs, it is easy to see how self-care is shuffled to the bottom of their priorities.
According to The American Psychological Association, the stresses of caring for a senior loved one can take a toll on the health of members of the Sandwich Generation. Studies show that adults caring for multiple generations experience weakened immune systems, more frequent headaches and backaches, and higher levels of depression.
Easing the caregiving burden is essential to a Sandwich-Generation caregiver’s well-being.
Here are some ways you can help:
- Lend a hand. Offer to help, but know that simply asking the caregiver if he or she needs help may not be enough. Look for a specific task or opportunity you can assist with to lighten their load.
- Give them a break. Stay with the aging loved one while the caregiver enjoys lunch with friends, has their hair done, or just takes a quiet walk alone. Consider volunteering your time to allow for a regular “caregiver’s day off.”
- Be a good listener. Allowing the caregiver to vent or share the day’s experiences over the phone can help them avoid feelings of isolation. Socializing is a great way to relieve stress.
- Be positive and supportive. If you are the spouse of a mufti-generational caregiver, you may feel some resentment when your husband or wife is busy caring for an aging loved one. Focus on admiring your spouse for their commitment to their elders and their hard work.
- Do some research. Most family caregivers aren’t aware of the many resources available to assist them. Visit the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging website for more information about services like Meals on Wheels and Michigan Adult Day Services that can make caregiving easier.
- Help them to prepare. The hard work of the Sandwich Generation allows seniors to stay in their homes, but there may come a time when they must move to an independent living or assisted living center. Encourage the caregiver to visit several senior living communities. Knowing the amenities and expenses of each will help them create an emergency back-up plan just in case they need it.
For more information to help a friend or family member of the Sandwich Generation care for themselves, visit the AARP Caregiving Resource Center.
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My 91 year old mother suffers from advanced diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Both make it difficult for her to care for herself. But she insists on staying in her home in Holland, Michigan instead of moving to senior living. She has lived there for almost 60 years. The problem is that my brother just won’t help with her care. We both live equal distances from her, but he won’t even take her to doctor’s appointments. I love my mother and want to care for her. That isn’t the issue. But I have a busy job and two children still living at home. There just aren’t enough hours in my day to be her only caregiver! I am getting more and more resentful of my brother. I am afraid I will say something I really regret if he doesn’t start helping.
-Melissa in Muskegon, Michigan
You are a classic example of someone trying to survive the “sandwich”. A term we use to describe the generation sandwiched between aging parents’ needs and those of their own children. In your case, you have the added stress of a sibling who won’t help. In almost every family we work with across the state of Michigan, one child bears the primary responsibility of caregiving. Most of the time it is the adult daughter or daughter-in-law.
I have a few ideas for you to try:
- Ask your brother to meet you to talk about your mother. Have the meeting in a neutral place. Somewhere that you can talk without interruption.
- Prepare a list of activities you do for your mother and things you know need to be done but you haven’t had time to do. Even little things like picking up prescriptions should be on the list.
- Really give some thought beforehand to what he could do to help. Maybe lawn care or household repairs? What jobs will he be most likely to do on a routine basis?
- Sit down with your brother and share your concerns and your list with him in a respectful way. This may be difficult to do given how much resentment you are feeling towards him. Just remember, your goal is to get him to agree to help without forever damaging your relationship.
- Listen to what he has to say. You may find that fear is keeping him from helping your mother. Maybe you can arrange to meet at your mother’s house together to work on projects for her. Easing him in to caregiver responsibilities may give him time to adapt to the changes in your mother that have frightened him away.
- Try to divide up the task list and talk about dates and deadlines. Leaving the meeting with a definite plan will help.
- If all else fails, you have two options. You can hire a family mediator to help resolve your differences. Or you can accept that he won’t help and move on without him. That will be hard to do, but continuing to live with resentment will put your own health at risk.
Best of luck, Melissa! Please feel free to call one of the Heritage Senior Communities in Holland (http://www.heritageseniorcommunities.com/locations.php) if you have any questions or need more advice on senior living.