Middle aged adults are faced with different challenges than their predecessors and are often being pulled in several directions at once. You may know someone, or be someone, who is the primary care-giver for their parent or parents.
‘The ‘sandwich generation’ is the term used for this group of people who have to do it all.. ‘
More seniors living longer and staying at home longer means more family members need to help with their care. And it’s not unusual to find that these same care-givers have their own kids moving back home for career or financial reasons. Or to see some members of the sandwich generation having to raise their own grandchildren.
Exhaustion and burnout are two of the most frequent realities of the sandwich generation. They don’t always know about the resources that are available to them; they still attempt to have a life of their own and in many cases, a career. Makes for a busy life!
You may not fit exactly into the age groups defined as the sandwich generation, but if you’re juggling everything and everyone, you fit the definition.
Dawn Taplay, a recently retired physiotherapist who worked closely with elderly clients in their homes, says it’s often difficult for the adult children of aging parents to let go.
“They want to make things perfect for their parents. It’s OK to let some things slide; that’s just a fact of life. Maybe the aging senior isn’t eating as well as they used to. Or they don’t change their clothes every day. It’s alright if they don’t have a bath as frequently as they used to. You need to learn to ride with some of these changes. It’s important to take the time to learn about caregiver support groups, meet with family doctors and do some online research,” she says.
Information isn’t necessarily available at one’s fingertips, but the good news is that there is a great deal of support available. Talk to your parents’ family doctor or Interior Health. Taplay says they have a wealth of information on different types of services that are available to assist both their parents and themselves as they work through this challenging time in their parent’s lives.
During the many years she provided in-home assistance for seniors, Taplay dealt with cognitive and physical changes facing the elderly. Home visits usually involved both the adult children and the parents, at which time they can have a conversation regarding realistic responsibilities for the adult children, as well as what is happening in their own lives. In some cases, she says, seniors are actively living in their kids’ homes…and sometimes they’re babysitting grandchildren.
“All these generations living in one home can be very trying. The whole experience is a learning process and we learn by being taught, not just by failure. It’s very important to aim for quality time rather than quantity of time. Setting boundaries for their parents is important, and the sandwich generation needs to call in back-up in the form of caregiver support. Some of it is paid for and some isn’t,” Taplay said.
She also recommends that you go in baby steps…don’t overwhelm the aging parent. You cannot fix everything immediately. And she reminds us that while the senior is losing control, sometimes the negativity they project is because they still want to look after themselves.
Rebecca Aaron, a clinical nurse who works closely with seniors on mental health issues, says it is crucial to respect the elderly’s personhood.
“They are individuals and we have to respect their rights,” says Aaron, “We need to be sure we are doing what works for them and not what you may think is right. When they’re seeming difficult, it is due to fear and anxiety they’re experiencing.”
Aaron says the first step for children faced with their parents’ health problems is their family doctor. It’s critical to have a solid relationship with them, and to spell out in detail what you’re struggling with. Seniors often don’t know what questions to ask their doctors and need an advocate.