The Sandwich Generation - Caring for Your Children and Your Parents
Everyone has occasional days where it is hard to take care of obligations and get tasks completed, especially care partners of loved ones with Parkinson's. If you also have responsibility for others, a spouse or partner, children, or increasingly, aging parents or relatives, it can be just plain overwhelming. Juggling a home, career, family and aging parents is daunting and time-consuming.
Over the last 70 years, the United States and other developed countries have experienced significant societal changes in the fabric and composition of the family. More women who have gone to college, established careers and then married, have children later in life. Couples are also having fewer children.1
The term "Sandwich Generation" came into the current lexicon in the 1980s, conceived by social workers and gerontology experts when referring to women in their 30s and 40s who were raising children. These women also had responsibilities at work for their parents and others who needed assistance. Today, around 50% of adults who are in their 40s or 50s have a parent age 65 or older, and are raising a young child or providing financial assistance to an adult child.2 1 in 8 are also taking care of aging or ailing parents, siblings or grandparents.3 These sandwich caregivers may also be taking care of a spouse with a chronic condition, such as Parkinson's, as well. Most of the sandwich caregivers are women but men also take on these responsibilities.
According to the Pew Research Center, as people live longer, the sandwiching cohort will continue to expand to over 70 million Americans by 2030. In fact, some reports suggest that not only are baby boomers aging, but more than 25% of young adults between ages 25 and 34 at some point live with their parents. They are referred to as the boomerang generation because many come back home once they have already left.
The increased demands required when caring for others can be time consuming, costly and create additional stress. Finding a balance can be difficult and requires organization, structure and the flexibility to know that not everything can always be completed.1 Understanding and planning for the financial needs of caregiving can contribute to the increased sense of stress. Having conversations with your partner and other family members, before or soon after assuming care responsibilities may allow you to agree on a plan for covering the associated costs.
Caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects each person in a unique fashion. A chronic, neurodegenerative condition, people with Parkinson’s generally experience motor and non-motor symptoms. These can range from mild tremors to requiring assistance getting around, to needing full time support. Responsibilities for aiding someone with PD may be as simple as providing transportation assistance once they are no longer driving, or able to get around easily on public transportation, to helping with daily activities such as getting dressed, meal preparation, and giving medications.2,3 Others have medical conditions that make managing the Parkinson’s even more complex. There can also be financial, legal, and emotional needs that have to be met.
Mental health issues can be a component of the non-motor symptoms. Some people may be treated for anxiety or depression while others may develop hallucinations and delusions, conditions associated with Parkinson’s disease psychosis. In fact, Parkinson’s disease dementia is the leading cause of nursing home placement for people with PD.
When taking care of others, caregivers often forget to take care of themselves. Studies of the sandwich generation report that it is common to occasionally feel unappreciated for their continual sacrifice. It is important to preserve the capacity to care for others, by taking care of yourself. Caregivers need to be able to let go or know when to ask for help. As society has changed, many families today have fewer siblings to share responsibility in caring for aging relatives. As the primary caregiver or care coordinator it is important to identify other family members, friends, or available community support to provide regular or respite assistance. If you or your relatives are financially able, hiring outside support is also an important step to maintaining your own physical and mental health.1,3
Caregiver tips or coping techniques
To maintain a healthy balance you need to preserve your capacity to protect and take care of well-being. Fostering contentment and recognizing that perfection does not have to be your goal can help manage all of the competing responsibilities. Self care and social support activities can be useful. Here are some tips:
- Take some time for yourself
- Get plenty of rest
- Eat right and exercise
- Find tools for stress relief like yoga or meditation
- Don’t give up favorite recreational activities
- Make time for social interaction with friends
- Manage your time and energy, and take a break!1,2,3
It has been suggested that those who are most successful at managing the responsibilities of caring for multiple generations find joy in performing and successfully completing caregiving tasks. Creating opportunities to spend time together, for fun, social interaction, or learning new skills can be rewarding.1 Recognizing that the time and energy you are investing is helping those you love can be reward enough, even if it does not feel like it in the moment.
Do you participate in a support group for PD?