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The NSPA Blog

Caught In The Middle: The Sandwich Generation

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Posted on March 23rd, 2016 by Teri Dreher, under Patient Advocacy, Sandwich Generation, Tips & Resources

We are hearing more and more about the “Sandwich Generation”.  This is a phrase coined to describe those who are caring for their children while also taking care of aging parents.

The Sandwich Generation supersedes the groups “Baby Boomer” and “Generation X” because it includes all persons with a parent over 65 who are also raising a child under 18 or financially supporting a child over 18.  According to the 2013 Pew Research Study, (click on the link if you’d like to read the study yourself, it is very interesting!) 47% of people aged 40-59 are members of the Sandwich Generation.

When we think of persons age 40-59, we typically think of someone at the height of their career, working full time, trying to pay their bills, provide for their children, or paying for college if their kids are over 18, while hopefully planning for their retirement.  Adults of this age are very busy.  Along with work, their kids may be heavily involved in sports or other activities that take up much of their free time.  And we’re seeing an increase in chronic medical and developmental issues with children born in the last 10 years.  One sobering fact: scientists report that 1/83 males born in the United States today will be diagnosed with autism.   There are increasing numbers of children with life-threatening allergies and asthma.   It is very apparent that members of the Sandwich Generation may find themselves with a child that requires additional care, time, and financial resources.

We’ve talked about the child “side” of the sandwich, now let’s look at the aging parent side of the “Sandwich”.  They too may require financial assistance, emotional support, and extra care.  According to the Pew Study, around 15% of middle-aged adults are providing financial support to their children and parents simultaneously, while 73% of middle aged adults surveyed by Pew have provided financial assistance to their children over 18.  We hear these issues all the time with our clients; for her safety, Mom really needs to move to a memory care facility, but it costs $9000 a month and Medicare won’t cover it.   Dad desperately needs a new set of hearing aids, but they cost $5000.  The family house is 50 years old and needs a new roof, water heater, and furnace, but there is not enough money with having to pay for the nursing home.  With people living longer, the costs associated with aging can be out of reach for many.  Adult children can be caught in the middle, trying to pay their own bills and help their parents out financially at the same time.  Pew found that 75% of respondents felt it an obligation to help their parents financially if they needed it.

We cannot discount the time we need to spend with our children as well as our aging parents.  Pew says that 68% of persons aged 40-59 reported that their parents “frequently” or  “sometimes” needed emotional support.  Adding to the stress, 76% reported that their adult children also needed emotional support frequently or sometimes.  An example:  Mom lives alone since Dad died, and now many of her friends are dying or moving to the nursing home, and she is feeling lonely and needs a lot of emotional support.   Since losing the ability to drive, read, or watch TV due to vision loss, Dad requires a great deal of emotional support.

Assistance with day-to-day living is a huge issue.  According to Pew, 28% of middle-aged adults below the age of 60 reported a parent(s) needing help with day to day living.  31% reported performing most of the assistance themselves, while 48% said they performed some of the assistance.  When respondents to Pew’s study were aged 60 or greater, 50% of them reported a parent requiring day-to-day assistance.  Caregivers are hard to find, and expensive.  Who will foot the bill?  And in the case of hospitalization, the pressures are even greater as the adult child tries to balance being there with their parent at the hospital, talking to their doctors, trying to get information, all the while getting the kids to and from school, and hoping the boss will forgive the unplanned absence from work or decreased work performance.

Clearly, as the Sandwich Generation ages the concerns become more serious and you could find yourself with a serious shortage of time and money, and your emotional health on the fringes.  While there are no easy answers to the issues the Sandwich Generation faces, here are a few tips you may find helpful.

  1. Ask “the village” for help. They say it takes a village to raise a child!  Befriend other parents who can help out with driving to baseball practice, or transport to birthday parties.  With 47% of adults in the Sandwich Generation, chances are good that there are fellow parents out there who will understand your need for help (and will probably ask for your help in kind!)  Pay the neighbor’s kid to mow the lawn while you spend some time catching up with your spouse.  Take care of your bill-paying electronically, and schedule automatic payments so you don’t find yourself with late charges.
  2. Take care of yourself, even in small ways, as often as you can. Sandwich Generationals can find themselves not eating properly, not exercising, and not taking time for themselves.  While you may not have time for the gym membership, you can park the car further at work and get some extra steps in, or meet up with a friend and walk and talk on your lunch break.  Mindfully choose healthier yet still simple meals.  There are many great options today, even at quick restaurants if you don’t have time to prepare a meal.   Find a hair salon that will cut your kids hair at the same time you get yours cut.
  3. Talk to someone. If you’re finding yourself stressed out, feeling sad, or not sleeping well, help these days can be a phone call away.  If dear friends are also busy like you, there are website therapists who will Skype with you over the phone, rather than having to drive to an office.  If you’re affiliated with a church, talking with a respected clergy can really help as well.
  4. Consult with a private professional healthcare advocate (PPHA). A PPHA can do a wide variety of things to help you keep your parents healthy and safe.  For example, they can help manage your parents’ medical care, facilitating communication between physicians, organizing medication management, and suggest devices that will make living on their own easier and safer.   If you’re not sure, a PPHA can help assess whether your parent is safe to live on his or her own, or suggest high-quality senior living communities that are within their budget.  They can also help you navigate the complex world of Medicare and insurance concerns.

With over 36 years of clinical experience in Critical Care nursing, home based health care and expertise as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri is well acquainted with the complexities of the modern healthcare system. She has served as a nursing leader, mentor, educator, and consistent patient advocate throughout her career in some of the best hospitals across the country. Her passion to keep the patient at the center of the model of nursing care led her to incorporate NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in 2011, serving clients throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.

For a no-cost 30 minute initial consultation, please call 847-612-6684 or click here to fill out our online callback request form.