I started paying attention to statistics and studies on elder care more than five years ago, when my mother was showing signs of dementia and no longer was able to manage life at her condominium in Highlands.
The numbers were scary then. They’re even scarier now.
An excellent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights the plight of “sandwich-generation” caregivers: men and women -- mostly women -- who simultaneously are caring for young children and elderly parents who no longer can perform “activities of daily living” such as preparing meals and bathing. The number of Americans shouldering such a burden has swollen to 9 million, according to the Journal.
The article points to a number of demographic trends that help explain how we got here. Women are having children later in life. People are living longer, and more are developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Families are smaller, increasing the burden on the “sandwich generation.”
“All these trends are converging and intensifying the demands on those caring for generations on either side of them,” Journal reporter Clare Ansberry writes.
A recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving found most such caregivers are in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s -- at the peaks of their careers both as professionals and parents. They devote an average of 22 hours a week to caring for an elderly parent, even as they work an average of 36 hours a week, not to mention the time spent raising their children.
“It’s not hard to see how we are being squeezed and stretched like never before,” said Sarita Gupta, co-founder of the support group Caring Across Generations.
And it’s only going to get worse. Consider that the first baby boomers will turn 80 in 2026. Consider, too, that about 60% of Americans 65 and older have at least two chronic health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Old age is very different today than it was 15 or 20 years ago,” said Anne Tumlinson, who started the support group Daughterhood.org. “Medical intervention keeps people alive long past the point when they can take care of themselves.”
The Journal article profiles a number of women and men who are simultaneously raising children and caring for elderly parents -- cases that painfully illustrate the predicament so many of us are in. One example is Deanna Bautti, a 37-year-old small-business owner who drives to her father’s apartment twice a day to make sure he is fed and dressed. Because her toddler Roman accompanies her, Ms. Bautti tries to time the visits around his naps and meal times.
“I feel very torn between my child and my dad,” she told the Journal.
According to the article, one in three “sandwich caregivers” live in the same home with the parent who needs help. While that may be true nationally, the number is probably far smaller in wealthier areas such as Monmouth County, where many residents commute to high-pressure jobs in and around New York City. In many ways, the pressures on caregivers can be even greater under those circumstances.
The Journal piece also powerfully illustrates the boundless love people bring to juggling their responsibilities as parents, professionals and adult children of an ailing mother or father.
“My mom was mentally ill and dependent on me the entire time I was bringing up my three kids,” one “sandwich-generation” caregiver said. “I didn’t realize this until years later, but the life-affirming and loving messages my kids got from watching my husband and me care for someone taught them the really big lessons in life -- like the meaning of love. We all learned and grew from the experience.”
If you’re a “sandwich caregiver,” the Journal offers some useful advice. Among the most important points:
1. Set boundaries: Be clear about what you can and can’t do and say no when you have to.
2. Prioritize: Drop non-essentials from the list and make sure the essentials really are that.
3. Enlist help: Ask relatives, friends and neighbors for help. Family members who can’t help with primary care can research support options and help manage finances or pay for housekeeping.
4. Plan: Caregiving can stretch into decades. Look into respite care, adult day care and in-home care.
If you want to explore home-care options, Twin Lights Home Care is here to help.
Written by T.J. Foderaro