Being sandwiched eats away at our health

Generational forces are driving socio-economic changes in lifestyles and families that are contributing to stress and negatively affecting our health and wellbeing. One prime example is the pressures faced by Baby Boomers as they come of age and, in many cases, find themselves faced with caretaker burdens that “sandwich” them between supporting their children, themselves, and aging parents.

It is estimated that American families provide 80 to 90 percent of all in-home long-term care services for their aging family members, disabled adult children, and other loved ones.  These services may include assistance with activities of daily living, medical services coordination, medical supervision, administration of medications and assistance with financial, legal, spiritual and emotional concerns. These family caregivers often go unrecognized and are typically over-utilized. Focusing on their children, parents, and jobs, their own needs often go unfulfilled, which leads to additional stress.

Typically the American “Sandwich Generation” caregiver has been a woman in her mid-forties, married, employed and caring for her family and an elderly parent, usually her mother. Today, however, there are more and more men finding themselves in a caregiving role as well, and often they are squeezed in between the generations. 

The demanding role of being multi-generational caregivers spreads across all racial, gender, age and ethnic boundaries.  Some of the common stressors that affect both urban and rural sandwich generation caregivers are:

  • Splitting time between children/family and elder loved ones
  • Finding time for each caregiving role
  • Finding time for marriage or a significant other
  • Finding time for yourself
  • Not falling behind in your work or bringing your home stress to the work place
  • Keeping generational peace between children and elder loved ones
  • Finding the resources needed to care for family members
  • Combating feelings of isolation
  • Dealing with all the guilt associated with not having enough time to accomplish all that “should” be done.

Related challenges include geographic barriers to resources, and isolation from other caregivers, family members or informal supports.  The lack of service or care network availability, especially burdensome outside of cities, can add to caregiver stress, burnout, and depression. Solving these issues and controlling related stress and health factors is critical, though not easy – it requires adjustments on both sides, establishing boundaries, and setting priorities that include time for yourself, empathy and outreach to others. If you’re “sandwiched,” here are a few tips to help achieve better balance:

Regular “team” communication. Consider having a weekly family meeting where you discuss upcoming events, responsibilities, issues and opportunities. This gives everyone in the family the opportunity to discuss what’s on his or her mind in an open, safe environment. Use this forum to discuss the many different caregiving tasks that need to be accomplished each day or week. 

Set a family weekly or monthly task list.  Set mutual expectations for how the many tasks of caregiving will be accomplished.  Caregiving often becomes a one-person show but it does not need to be if you have family support. 

Ask for assistance. Make a point of picking up the telephone and spending time calling resources such as your local area Agency on Aging, hospital, a social worker, a physician or a local church or temple. There are a variety of services available in most communities and cities. Many can be found on the internet or simply by talking with other caregivers, social service agencies, behavioral health centers and related professionals.

Take time to care for yourself.  Sandwich generation caregivers become run down and sick because they have not taken time to care for themselves.  You can’t care effectively for your loved ones if you don’t care for yourself, as well.  Here are some useful hints to help make sure you focus on your own needs as well as those you are caring for:

  • Take time every day to “check-in” with yourself, even if it is only for half an hour.  This should be your protected time.  Enjoy this time by reading, listening to music, exercising or whatever you like to do.
  • Remember to take time to laugh, talk with friends, and eat properly, especially nutritious food rather than prepared foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
  • Take time to be “in” your marriage or relationship.
  • Try to “be present” at work as much as possible… our jobs exercise our creativity and usefulness in different ways, and association with others outside the home is valuable, emotionally.
  • Listen to your body – if it’s telling you to slow down, or that something is not right, seek medical advice.  Also seek assistance from a therapist or professional counselor versed in caretaker stress.

Every caregiver and caregiving situation is unique, but there are always common factors bridging situations and caregivers.  Support can come from many different sources and in many different ways as long as you seek it out and remember, always, that taking care of yourself is your most important job.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!