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Changing Roles

by Lindsey Getz

Caring for both children and an aging parent may make you feel a bit stuck—but there are solutions.

When Kerri Lopez got a call that her 91-year-old great-grandmother had fallen in the bathtub and was in the hospital with a fractured shoulder and humerus, some big changes were already set in motion. As one of the primary emergency contacts, Lopez felt overwhelmed when she found out her grandmom was being discharged because she would be unable to take care of herself. Up until that point, her grandmom had been very independent and was living on her own. “I didn’t know what to do,” recalls Lopez. “I am a mother of three girls and my husband has his own business.”

Confronting reality, the family realized the time had come to consider their options. In the end, they decided that Woodbury Mews Senior Living was the best solution. Today, Lopez says everyone couldn’t be happier. “Woodbury Mews takes care of my grandmother,” says Lopez.

“They even have doctors that come in to see her so I don’t have to worry about taking her to the doctor. When we come to visit, we get to spend quality time with grandmom. She seems to be much happier now.”

Stuck in the middle
Lopez falls into what has been called the “sandwich generation.” It’s a newly named subset categorizing those caring for aging loved ones (usually parents—but sometimes grandparents or even great grandparents like in Lopez’s case) while also raising children of their own. Much of the time, those in the sandwich generation are women or “moms in the middle”—though that’s not always the case. “Because women have always been thought of as natural-born caregivers, they do often assume this role, but we’re definitely seeing more adult sons get very involved in their aging parents’ care,” reports Mel Horan, director of sales for Brightview Senior Living (with locations in Mount Laurel, Woodbury and Marlton). “I think that’s largely due to the fact that women used to be home all the time, but today’s women are out in the workforce just as much as men.”

Of course for many women, that may also mean assuming multiple roles. Horan says it’s not uncommon for a working woman to still be the caregiver for an aging parent. “Women are great at multi-tasking, but this is still a huge burden,” she says. “You’re working 40 or 50 hours a week, raising children, and now also caring for aging parents. You’re trying to be everything to everyone and that can be exhausting.”

Being a “mom in the middle” can bring on a lot of stressors. Lopez says the hardest part for her was not only dealing with her immediate family but also the needs of aging family—and trying to manage it all. “It can be very stressful trying to juggle my children and my day-to-day work,” she admits.

Tiffany McGovern, director of sales and marketing for Woodbury Mews, says that’s something she sees a lot—along with a lot of guilt. “There is a big sense of guilt that moms in the middle often feel about making the decision to move a loved one,” she says. “Women in particular feel it’s their duty to be the one to take care of a parent, but in reality, trying to do that is not always the best solution for either party. A lot of times when they come to a community like ours, they realize that they’re getting much better care—not just medical care but also opportunities to socialize and really enjoy life. Mom being home alone all day watching TV isn’t good for anyone.”

Alleviating the burden
One of the most important things that senior living communities can do is remove some of the burden that moms in the middle feel, as well as the stress that parents might feel by letting their adult children take care of them. Christina O’Leary, director of branding and project management for Spring Hills Senior Communities (with multiple locations including Cherry Hill), says a community can “take the pressure off that mom in the middle.”

Today’s senior living communities have a lot to offer. Seniors just need to get over the false preconceived notions they may be harboring. “I think the seniors have a fear of what a community is going to be like—assuming they’ll be locked away or lose independence,” says Barbara Wrzeszcz, director of marketing for Collingswood Manor in Collingswood. “But this is retirement living. It’s not locking someone away—it’s opening a door. We don’t prohibit our residents from the things they were doing at home. They still do them here. In fact, they often find they can do even more than they were ever doing at home on their own.”

Patrick Quinn, director of marketing for CareOne at Moorestown, agrees. He says CareOne offers six or seven different activities a day—seven days a week. And even if seniors aren’t participating in the various activities, they’ll still have interaction opportunities with a social-based dining room setting for all three meals. “Seniors go from eating TV dinners by themselves to ordering food at an omelet station with friends,” says Quinn. “We also take care of a lot of needs with maintenance, housekeeping and transportation. We’re taking a lot of stress off of seniors’ plates and allowing them to just enjoy life.”

Quinn says when parents move into the community, it helps “straighten out the roles.” Daughters can go back to just being daughters and sons can be sons again. It takes away that caregiver burden. And parents like that, too. “Everyone is so much happier in the end,” admits Quinn. “And the parent is usually getting better care. The child may have been dropping meals off—but maybe the parent isn’t eating them. Or they’re setting up a pill box—but the parent is still forgetting to take them. When you come to us, we take over those jobs and help parents and adult children go back to having their original relationship.”

O’Leary agrees. She says when it’s time to have that conversation, they try to make it as easy as possible. And if the senior isn’t ready to move in, Spring Hills also offers home care services to aid with things like shopping, getting dressed or preparing meals. “We can pick the seniors up and invite them to our community for the day,” she says. “They can participate in our activities for the day without the commitment of moving in. But what often happens is that they see the benefit and want to move in.”

And while many may be putting that discussion off, Quinn says to bite the bullet. “The conversation itself might be difficult—but that’s usually the hardest part,” he says. “Once they move in, they get settled incredibly quickly and realize it was the best decision. Most that move in make friends right away and actually wish they’d moved in sooner.”

Helping Hands

…Special Advertising Section from the pages of Suburban Family Magazine…

Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caring for all your loved ones—from the youngest to the oldest of generations. As you help guide your parents into the next chapter of their lives, you might be surprised by how much fulfillment lies ahead.

All Star Lifts
Serving South Jersey
(609) 442-7508

AristaCare at Cherry Hill
1399 Chapel Ave.
Cherry Hill
(856) 663-9009

Brendenwood/Brookdale Senior Living
1 Brendenwood Drive
(856) 424-7773

Brightview Senior Living
400 Fernbrooke Lane
Mount Laurel
(856) 222-1213
752 Cooper St.
(856) 848-8777
170 Greentree Road
(856) 810-0070

Collingswood Manor
460 Haddon Ave.
(856) 854-4331

CareOne at Moorestown
895 Westfield Ave.
(856) 914-0444

Five Star Senior Living
501 Laurel Oak Road
(856) 566-2340

490 Cooper Landing Road
Cherry Hill
(856) 482 9300

600 Medical Care Center
(856) 582-8700

Juniper Village
1640 S. Black Horse Pike
(856) 740-4444

Olde Soles Cobbler Shop & Diabetic Foot Center
295 Marlton Pike W.
Cherry Hill
(856) 216-8003

Post House
540 Mullica Hill Road
(856) 307-0617

South Jersey Hand Center
1888 Marlton Pike E.
Cherry Hill
(856) 489-5630

Spring Hills Cherry Hill
1450 Marlton Pike E.
Cherry Hill
(800) 618-9973

TLC HomeCare
310 Commerce Drive
(856) 234-8700

Woodbury Mews
122 Green Ave.
(856) 292-6056

Yardley Commons
209 Laurel Road
(856) 772-1313

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 12 (February, 2013).
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