SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: The sandwich generation | Lifestyles
Today, the United States has more than 54 million people over the age of 65. That number is expected to grow steadily.
In generations past, it was common for extended families to live in the same town, perhaps just a few blocks from one another and everyone was able to help out when parents or grandparents needed care. For as long as there have been families, people have had to find a way to take care of their aging family members.
Add to this the trend of couples waiting longer to have children and you can begin to see why the term “Sandwich Generation” emerged. It references the people who are caring for their children while also being involved in caring for their aging parents.
In the broadest sense, the “sandwich generation” is caught in the middle generation who have living parents and children. More specifically, the term often refers to middle-aged people who support both their parents and their children, whether financially, physically or emotionally. Multigenerational needs have become even more pressing during the COVID-19 pandemic, with record numbers of adult children moving back home and with elderly parents needing new forms of care.
COVID-19 is also pushing millennials into the sandwich generation faster than might be expected. In the United States, millennials now make up more than one-third of multigenerational caregivers and this rate has been growing much faster during the pandemic than for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. In other words, the pandemic has accelerated the slide into the sandwich, and with fewer of the resources that helped previous generations out.
Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, chances are good that you will be called on to care for a loved one.
Being embedded within multigenerational responsibilities does carry benefits. In particular, healthy grandparents can be a huge boon to working parents. The role of grandparents has significantly increased over the past decade.
COVID-19 has made family support even more crucial. This is manifesting in increased strain on both time and finances for the sandwich generation. Some have felt they have had no choice but to reduce their hours or give up work altogether without access to their usual formal and informal support: day care and eldercare facilities, occasional help from friends, community or other family members.
Overall, however, sandwiched Americans are more likely to be supporting young adults than elderly parents, something that has intensified during the pandemic. In July 2020, 52% of 18- to 29-year olds were living with their parents — the highest proportion recorded since the Great Depression. It’s clear that COVID-19 affected living arrangements. However, it’s not clear how long they’ll stay. These shifts were out of necessity rather than choice, but early evidence shows that such changes are associated with a rise in stress.
One small silver lining of the pandemic has been the normalization of flexible and remote work. If this continues post-pandemic, caregivers may find it easier to remain employed. Having more options would help caregivers maintain their varied family ties while preserving their financial, mental and social wellbeing. Undoubtedly, the sandwiched could use more support as they themselves support others — and as they pave the way for the sandwich individuals of the future.
In the United States, happiness rates are roughly the same between people in and out of the sandwich generation. But the positive effects of being sandwiched can’t be realized if the stress overpowers the ability to cope.
Caring for a loved one can be overwhelming for some. To help:
— Have a routine. If the person you are caring for is less confused or more cooperative at certain times, plan to make the most of those moments.
— Get organized. Put financial and legal documents in order, investigate long term care options, and determine what services are covered by health insurance.
— Reach out. Research every community resource available.
— Live your life. Find the time to do things you enjoy. Remember, caring for you is important because if you overload and burn out, everyone loses.
There are several warning signs of caregiver stress: Feeling sad, anxious, moody, isolated or overwhelmed. Crying more often than you used to. Having less energy. Difficulty sleeping, or not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Changes in appetite. Losing interest in hobbies or things that you used to enjoy. Anger towards the person you are caring for or towards other people or situations. These feelings are not wrong or strange, they indicate you should talk to a doctor or a counselor about your feelings and consider joining a support group where you can share your emotions and concerns with other caregivers.
Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .