Someone wise once said, “Not all angels are in heaven. Some are walking around beside you.” It’s safe to assume this person was referring to caregivers. As November is Family Caregivers Month, it’s the perfect time to offer gratitude and support to this tireless population of people who lovingly give baths, clean houses, and provide comfort for millions of seniors and ill people who are friends and loved ones.
The theme for Family Caregivers Month this year is “Caregiving Around the Clock.” This theme is relevant to all caregivers, but especially to those in the “sandwich generation” of men and women who are still caring for children while also taking care of their parents or older loved ones. Family Caregivers Month offers an opportunity to raise awareness of caregiving issues facing the sandwich generation, educate communities, and increase support for them.
Some Facts About the Sandwich Generation
The sandwich generation is defined as people who have a living parent aged 65 or older, and who also are either raising a child under age 18 or financially supporting an adult child.
- According to Pew Research, nearly half (47%) of middle-aged adults in their 40s and 50s are part of the sandwich generation.
- Nearly one-in-five middle-aged adults are providing unpaid care to an adult with health or functional needs, while about one-in-seven are providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.
- 38% of individuals in the sandwich generation say both their grown children and their parents rely on them for emotional support.
- The American Psychological Association reports that mothers aged 35 to 54 feel more stress than any other age group.
In addition to offering emotional support or financial assistance to parents or older relatives, many members of the sandwich generation are also family caregivers.
- Family caregivers now encompass more than one-in-five Americans.
- 61% of family caregivers are women.
- Most caregivers (more than 60%) work outside the home either part-or full-time in addition to their caregiving responsibilities.
Understanding the Cost of Caregiver Stress Among the Sandwich Generation
It’s not possible to only talk dollars and cents when thinking about the daily “cost” of being a family caregiver. There are so many other impacts to consider.
Cost to family life. For a person trying to balance family life with caregiving, there often just aren’t enough hours in the day. Being a full-time parent means attending school events and sports activities, helping with homework, and providing ongoing attention and support to a child—this doesn’t leave a great deal of time or energy to be sure an older person is getting the care they need. Yet, the demands of caring for an aging parent who requires constant attention often means the caregiver is unable to be there for their family as much as they would like. The result can be added stress and guilt.
Costs to work and career. As many members of the sandwich generation have learned, trying to focus on work duties, meetings, business trips, and more is difficult enough. Add in the responsibilities of caring for an older adult and something is bound to suffer. Many working adults find they have to reduce their work hours or even give up their jobs in order to be more present for their parent or loved one.
Costs to relationships. Taking care of another can cut into quality time with your partner or time spent tending to other family matters. In addition, being exhausted and feeling guilty can lead to arguments and resentments with a spouse. It’s also important to understand that taking on too much as a caregiver can have a serious effect on the relationship you have with the very person you are caring for: your parent or loved one. You want the best for them, but if you are constantly worn out and frustrated, you’re most likely not giving your best.
- 11% of caregivers state that their role has caused their physical health to decline.
- 45% of caregivers reported chronic conditions, including heart attacks, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.
- Caregivers have a 23% higher level of stress hormones and 15% lower level of antibody responses than non-caregivers.
- 10% of primary caregivers report that they are under physical stress from the demands of assisting their loved one physically.
- Women who spend 9 or more hours a week caring for a spouse increased their risk of heart disease by 100%.
- Caregivers between the ages of 66 and 96 have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age.
How can the sandwich generation find relief?
If you are a caregiver feeling the stress of your responsibilities, here are some tips for taking care of yourself. Although it may seem like another item on your “to-do list,” making time for regular breaks from caregiving duties is essential for your well-being.
Make time to unwind and connect. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially these days. You should make time to talk with friends and seek out colleagues who lift your spirits, not those who bring you down.
Tap into a support group. When it comes to professional caregiving, you are never alone. If you feel overwhelmed by your stress, connecting with other caregivers can give you a much-needed outlet for feelings of frustration and exhaustion. Caregiver support groups abound across Facebook, and in-person or virtual groups are available through local hospitals and organizations.
Make your health a priority. Establish a solid sleep routine and exercise regularly each week. Review your diet and consider adding more fresh fruits and vegetables, potentially leaving less room for unhealthy alternatives.
Look into respite care. Respite care can take on many forms, depending upon your situation and who you care for. For example, you may consider assistance from family or friends, professional in-home help, adult day care, or respite care in a senior living community.
Breathe. Consider a daily relaxation practice. Finding a few minutes to reset your mind can help you cope in stressful times. While the idea of meditation may seem too time consuming, there are many apps that can help you decompress in just five minutes a day or less, allowing you to practice in your car, your break room, or truly anywhere. Check out apps like Calm, Headspace, or the simple Apple Breathe app, which reminds you to pause and practice deep breathing techniques several times throughout the day.
Before you can take care of anyone else, you must also take care of yourself.
Whether you are a member of the sandwich generation, a family caregiver, or an adult child making a plan for your aging parent’s future, don’t leave yourself out of the equation. Today’s senior living communities offer a range of assistance and guidance that can make a huge difference in the quality of life for everyone involved.
At Clearwater Living®, we are reimagining senior living to create an innovative approach to aging in comfort. Through years of experience as leaders in the senior living industry, we have discovered that the key to creating exceptional living experiences comes from ongoing collaboration, transparency, and connection with both residents, their families and loved ones. It is our commitment to excellence and service to seniors that make Clearwater Living communities such exceptional places to call home.