Aging Well: The Sandwich Generation - caught in the middle

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Are you a part of the "Sandwich Generation"? Aging Well would love to hear your story. Call Aging Well at 871-7676.

— Maybe you've heard the term "sandwich generation" and wondered what it means. Visualize yourself being pressed between two large slices of bread about to be eaten by a huge monster - only the "bread" is your parents and your children, and the "monster" is time.

Baby boomers are the people who currently make up the sandwich generation, caught between their parents and their children, trying to cope with the demands of both. And, since they are the first generation where most women work outside the home, new problems are cropping up daily. As their parents reach advanced age and require special care, more and more baby boomers are forced to shoulder extra responsibilities. Suddenly, they not only are taking care of their own families - spouses and children from grade school on up to college age, as well as married children and even a few grandchildren - they also are caring for their aging parents.

In previous generations when women stayed at home, the problem was not so great. Aging parents could move in with their children, and there was always someone at home to care for them. Nowadays, almost every woman has a full-time job, and taking care of children is hard enough without the added responsibility of caring for their parents, too.

The resulting tragedy is that too many older people live alone too long, drive cars too long and go without the care they need because they are either too proud or too stubborn to ask for help. Suddenly, the roles are reversed. The child must become the parent, take charge of the situation and make decisions for their parents just as their parents have always done for them, and it's never an easy transition.

Adult children must realize that just as they don't just let their children do things they know are wrong, nor can they allow aging parents to do things they should no longer be doing. That's easy enough to say, but try telling an adult who has been driving for more than 50 years that they have to give up the car keys. How do you tell your mother, whom you love dearly, that she must move out of the home where she has lived for many years and reared a family? These are problems being faced daily by members of the "sandwich generation."

Thankfully, there are many options for elder care these days, and every individual and family must find the right avenue for assuring that older family members are cared for in a manner that satisfies their needs and their family's expectations for them. For many older people, assisted living facilities or nursing homes are the answer. Other elderly people may have the luxury of staying in their own homes with children and grandchildren moving in with them to provide the extra help they need at this point in their lives.

Often, because of job and family constraints, the parents are the ones who must move. Either way, there is increased responsibility, and the "sandwich generation" must bear the burden.

Caring for an elderly parent while working a full-time job and raising a family almost sounds like an impossible task, but for many, it has become a way of life. Being a primary caregiver can be complicated by many issues other than the parent's unwillingness to be cared for. Health problems usually are an issue, and time must be found to make appointments, take the parent to the physician's office or hospital and make sure the prescribed treatment is followed. This often means taking time off work and not every employer entirely understands.

Luckily, there is plenty of help out there with agencies such as the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and the Council on Aging, which provide access to a plethora of programs to assist families and their loved ones. Certified home health aides and social workers work with families to help them access community resources such as Homemaker Services, Meals on Wheels, Friendly Visitor Service, Respite Care and much more.

Personal care such as bathing, shampooing, shaving and nail care, as well as light housekeeping, assistance with food preparation, laundry, shopping and supervision of prescribed medication and exercises all are services the certified aides can perform. This assistance enables the caregiver to concentrate on normal duties knowing that their aging loved one is not neglected. Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance usually cover the cost of these services and the benefits for both caregiver and patient are immeasurable.

When a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal disease, hospice is a service available to assist patients and their families as they physically, emotionally and spiritually prepare for the inevitable. Hospice allows the patient to remain at home or in a home-like environment with their family and friends surrounding them throughout their last days. Death is not a popular subject, but it eventually comes to everyone, and any means to make the end more bearable is a welcome relief for both patient and caregiver.

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