With both aging parents and children to care for, there’s an entire generation of people trying to “have it all”—fortunately help is on the way.
Robin Feller, of Sewell, is a working mother of three, grandparent, and a caregiver to her mother, who is diagnosed with dementia. Between rushing to get the kids off to school, preparing for a big project at work or accompanying her mother to doctors’ appointments, it’s a lot to manage, Feller admits, but this tough mom has found a way to control her own personal balancing act.
Struggling to adapt to the tug-of-war between parent and child isn’t a singular experience -- it’s natural part of the “sandwich generation,” a growing number of men and women sandwiched between supporting children and parents, often both at the same time. According to a Pew Research Center survey, roughly 15 million, or two-in-10, baby boomers are now raising kids or financially supporting at least one adult child while providing some financial support to a parent.
Fortunately, help is out there. From local parents’ support groups and after-school programs to keep your children active, to in-home and extended care facilities for your aging loved ones, there is no shortage of support help balance the demands of raising your own children while caring for a parent.
Knowing Where to Turn
When making decisions, the biggest problem many caregivers face in finding help is knowing where to look.
Michelle Hylton, Atlantic Coastal division manager for Homewatch CareGivers ManorCare, finds that many people who fall into the sandwich generation aren’t aware of the resources available. “Often times people would inquire about extra help only after something tragic already happened,” says Hylton. “We wanted to get information on resources out to them in advance.”
Seeking help early and having advance conversations with your loved ones about concerns and future care can make the transitions smoother and less stressful.
Feller also volunteers at a local nursing home, where she encounters people like herself, fellow members of the sandwich generation, on a constant basis. “It’s a role reversal: all of the sudden the child becomes like the parent,” Feller says. “And that’s not always easy to accept.”
Barbara Wrzeszcz, director of marketing and admissions at the Collingswood Manor, says that the sudden change in responsibility can be one of the biggest problems adults in this situation face.
“With the role reversal it becomes very difficult for the child to make decisions for their parent,” Wrzeszcz says. “It’s always a struggle as to how much they should push. How much independence should Mom and Dad still have and how intrusive should they be in making decisions for them? That’s a huge challenge, especially if the parent doesn’t recognize that they’ve become more fragile or needs extra help. It’s important to find a middle road.”
An assisted living community can relieve a person of some of the frustrations that come with being a caregiver, allowing them to adjust back to being another loving family member. “Assisted living is a home-like environment,” says Rhonda Meekins, certified assisted living administrator and executive director of the Sterling House in Deptford, a Brookdale Senior Living Community. “It provides all of the comforts of home, but still offers a high level of care. We strive to meet five assisted living concepts: dignity, independence, privacy, choice, and individuality.”
“In some cases, depending on the responsibility, these roles can become overbearing, and lead to something called caregiver stress,” Meekins says. “As much as you want to take care of that loved one, if you become stressed or even ill trying to manage it all, you won’t be able to take care of anyone.”
A Helping Hand
Being a member of the Sandwich Generation can leave you feeling caught in the middle, or pulled in two directions. Finding the right caregiver option to help support these needs can be a wonderful middle ground. In-home care, assisted living communities and acute inpatient rehabilitation programs offer alternatives that can soothe the stress for both parent and child.
“People usually find that once they’ve moved a parent or aging loved one [to a senior care facility], their relationship dramatically improves because they no longer have to be the caregiver,” explains Tiffany McGovern, of Voorhees Senior Living. “They can just go back to being the daughter or the son.”
In some cases, acute rehabilitation may be the best option. After a neurological, traumatic, or orthopedic event, a person may be left with various functional limitations that may prohibit them from returning to their previous lifestyle.
At Voorhees Senior Living, the professionals can help your aging loved one with showering, dressing, medication and other needs, McGovern says, “alleviating the burden on the child and giving them the peace of mind that their loved one is being taken care of and is happy.”
In some cases, the decision may be made to keep an elderly parent at home, even with a caregiver’s own children are still living there. In those cases, the support from a professional service can be invaluable.
Natalie Denize, regional director of Nanny’s USA, started Elder Care in Your Home as a way to offer extra help in non-medical areas that caregivers may find challenging. “Bringing a professional into the household will remove sources of friction and restore harmony into the home again,” explains Denize. “Our thoroughly screened caregivers help with all sorts of needs unique to aging adults including everything from changing bed linens to taking out the garbage, to monitoring diet and food intake.”
Many caregivers aren’t aware of these options, and some are too afraid to ask for help.
“There are many who continue to keep this entire burden on their own shoulders but we want people to know we’re out there to help,” agrees Wendy Pester, of Homewatch CareGivers in Westmont.
Homewatch Caregivers provides companion care and assistance to in-home individuals that need some extra help or supervision. They also offer a program for elders dealing with dementia – a tough condition for many caregivers to face. Fortunately, there are a variety of facilities dedicated to providing patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia additional support when they can no longer live at home.
“A lot of times caregivers get frazzled or frustrated by the behaviors associated with dementia but we are there to help them through it,” Pester says, noting the company also has an affiliated memory care location in Cherry Hill.
There is a world of guidance and support available to assist the “sandwich generation” in such personal and sensitive situations. Whether organizing your schedule or seeking professional assistance to care for a loved one, proper planning can lead to a happier and healthier family future.
Moms in the Middle Directory
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Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family’s High School Fall Sports Preview, August, 2011.
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