They call it the “Sandwich Generation” – the generation of people currently responsible for caring for children at home AND aging parents in need of care. It’s as tough as it sounds. These caregiving adults are juggling many complicated priorities every day. Especially during the current pandemic, household and family to-dos are sure to reach all-time highs.
We spoke with Lori Nisson, a clinical social worker and family & community service director at the Banner Alzheimer's Institute and Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Arizona to get her insight into the unique needs of the sandwich generation. She offered advice, understanding and a few helpful tips.
Children and Seniors Have Very Different Needs
You can’t help with homework and drive your in-law to a medical appointment at the same time. You are just one person and you can only be in one place at a time. Take a deep breath and repeat that last sentence to yourself … I’ll wait. One of the most important things you’ll learn as a caregiver in the sandwich generation is that you have limits. Nisson shared four important tips to manage this stress:
1. Take time for your own wellness.
Spend a few minutes out of your day focused on self-care. This is critical to create balance. Simple activities like breathing deeply and letting it out slowly, walking the dog, stretching, listening to music, watching a comedy or whatever serves as a healthy distraction for you, will make a big difference in managing stress.
2. Share the care.
Ask for help from your partners, kids, siblings, neighbors or close friends to manage care, errands or household chores. If possible, employing outside helpers such as a housekeeper, babysitter or non-medical caregivers can help minimize the load.
3. Explore outside resources.
If finances are an issue, look for local nonprofits that can provide advice and recommendations about available services for both kids and adults, volunteer help or funding for childcare or respite caregiving services. Explore extracurricular activity programs or adult life enrichment programs to offer a break while providing your family member with socialization, activity structure, supervision and care (many of which are now offered virtually). The Arizona Caregiver Coalition offers a resource line you can call as well as other resources and respite vouchers.
4. Get support.
It is a sign of strength to ask for help. Participate in a support group as most are currently available by phone or virtual platforms. Joining with others who are experiencing a similar situation can offer valuable connections, support and guidance. It may also be helpful to reach out to a trusted family member or friend, or you may consider reaching out to a nurse, social worker, psychologist or clergy for regular support.
There are many relationships to consider when you are centered in the middle. Tension can easily build between you and your parents, you and your kids or even you and your significant other. Nisson recommended a collaborative approach to care that promotes unity and support within your family. “Sharing the load allows the primary caregiver to ask for help from other family members in order to more equally distribute the care load. At the same time, the extended family unit can become closer as bonds form through the time and activities spent together.” Consider offering an older child compensation to babysit, asking your parents to help their grandkids with homework or call on younger kids in to help with simple chores you can’t get to.
Nisson added important advice to carve out some special activities with your kids along with quiet time with your spouse or partner. This kind of focused time may be difficult to come by, but it is vital in any relationship.
In many ways, caregivers put their priorities behind those they are responsible for. This is absolutely a noble and rewarding position to take. But it’s important to know your limits. The adage that you “can’t love others if you don’t love yourself” is true. You may need to schedule time in your calendar to relax or just be alone. Consider an early morning walk, quiet time outdoors with nature or carve out a few moments in the late evening for relaxation, mindfulness or reading to nurture yourself.
Regarding career changes made by caregivers, Nisson commented, “Working caregivers may feel forced to sacrifice their career in order to manage their caregiving duties. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, 70% of working caregivers have had to make modifications to their career to accommodate caregiving whether reducing work hours, changing roles or exiting the workforce altogether.” Although the sacrifice is sometimes necessary, this can add financial stress to an already tense situation. She added, “You may not get to choose or have the option to leave your career. We all have to decide for ourselves what’s best. Take pride in what you do, at home or in the office and make sure to balance those responsibilities with your own needs.”
Caregiving During COVID-19
This is an especially challenging time to be a caregiver. Under current pandemic conditions, leaving an aging parent in assisted living may seem risky. However, keeping the person in your home if family members are out in the community working, at school or participating in social activities can also increase the aging adult’s possible exposure to COVID-19. No matter how you care for your aging parents, it will require vigilance from the entire family to protect them from unnecessary exposure.
Your kids’ school may be remote now, mounting pressure in your home. You no longer have those key hours in the middle of the day to run errands, work or take a moment for yourself. Nisson recommended asking for support from your partner, children or parents to make sure that everyone is on task, fed and supervised during the day.
Consider In-Home Care
When caregivers find their aging adult’s needs to be mounting and their stress level rising, outside help may be the best way to offer solutions. Banner Health Home Care is a lifeline for caregivers who are feeling overwhelmed or who may no longer be capable of caring for aging loved ones.
Nisson cautioned caregivers to look out for early signs of stress in family members and especially yourself. She added that the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute recognizes the unique needs of adult child caregivers and offers clinical evaluations, a comprehensive care model, opportunities to take part in cutting-edge research, as well as a monthly Adult Child Caregiver support group now offered virtually. Reach out to discuss your options.