NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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The Sandwich Generation

The Sandwich Generation


Baby Boomers are also sometimes referred to as the sandwich generation as they have both children and parents who are living longer and so are “sandwiched” into between.  As Americans live longer, coping with aging parents is fact of life for more of us. The physical, emotional and financial challenges can feel overwhelming as an adult child takes on the responsibility of caring for aging parents.

It is important to understand that millions of adult children are noticing the signs of aging in their parents, especially at the beginning stages of serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s. According to the US Administration on Aging, 22 million families have in-home care provided by family members for aging parents. This is a staggering number that includes adult children, spouses, and other relatives. Boomers who still have a living parent are facing new responsibilities.

Even if the older parent still lives independently, there are probably a variety of caregiving tasks their children may need to provide, such as transportation to appointments, help with grocery shopping and home maintenance, and supervising medical, legal and financial dealings.  Even in families with two or more adult children, it’s often only one person who handles most of the caregiving.  Each family is unique, so it’s important to have open, honest discussions among the adult children and with the aging parent—before a health crisis with the aging parent arises.

Some things to consider when discussing caregiving responsibilities:

-How far away does each adult child live from the aging parent?

-What are work schedules and home responsibilities of each adult child?

-Who gets along/communicates best with the aging parent?

-What skills or abilities does each adult child bring to the situation?

The adult child who lives closest to the parent may provide personal care, transportation and medication supervision while the adult child who lives farther away may spend hours on the phone or computer doing paperwork related to insurance, finances or home-health services.

If you are the adult child providing most of the direct caregiving, consider these tips:

-Don’t assume that you have to do everything all the time. Ask for help when you need it. Plan ahead and talk with your siblings in advance. Go over options as a family.

-Ask yourself what you really want from your siblings. Help? Appreciation? Or do you want to be totally in charge with no interference from other family members?

-Don’t assume that others can read your mind. Learn to communicate with family members before you get overwhelmed or angry.

-Don’t confuse good care with happiness. Making sure that elderly parents have good care does not always ensure that they are going to be happy or enjoy life the way they once did.

If your sibling is the primary caregiver, here are some tips for you:

-Don’t think of yourself as off the hook just because you live far away or cannot provide the direct care. Ask what you can do to help.

-Lend a hand by phone or Internet. You can arrange for and help provide many services for your aging parent simply by making phone calls or sending email.

-Offer financial support if possible. Medicare and other insurance may not pay for all the services the elderly parent needs.

-Provide emotional support. Let the sibling who is providing the direct care know how much you appreciate his or her efforts. Be a good listener.

-Offer your opinions carefully. Your observations can be valuable, but you should word them carefully so they don’t imply criticism.  Parents have advised their children their whole lives, so hearing advice from a child – even an adult child - might not go over so well.

-Accept differences of opinions - No matter how close a family is, and despite the dynamics involved, everyone is not going to agree all of the time. There is sure to be differences of opinions. Respect the opinions of others. Listen to all sides, and make a decision together when possible.

For all parties – on-site caregivers, a distance away caregivers and the elderly parent, laugh when you can.  Laughter really is the best medicine. Even in a difficult and stressful caregiving situation, there are some humorous moments. A shared laugh can ease tension while building closeness.


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