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From sandwich generation to panini generation: How pressures have increased on family caregivers

Local Edwardsville elder care expert provides resources to help the nearly 60 percent of sandwich generation caregivers who don’t know where to turn

Today’s sandwich generation is pressed between the weight of their responsibilities: caring for aging parents while raising children in the midst of ever-changing economic and societal shifts. As the average life expectancy continues to increase, and families wait longer to have children, the demand on those caring for generations on either side of them only intensifies. As these pressures continue to weigh heavier on these caregivers, those in the sandwich generation feel more like a panini – pressed between two piping hot grill plates. And most don’t know where to turn for support.

According to Pew Research, more than one in 10 U.S. parents with children under the age of 18 are also caring for an aging adult. The National Alliance for Caregiving estimates this to be at least 11 million Americans.

“Caring for an aging loved one in and of itself, while incredibly profound and important, can be a major challenge for families,” describes Nikki Bishop, owner of the Home Instead® office serving Edwardsville. “For those who are also raising young children in the midst of shifting economic and societal uncertainty – compounded by an ongoing pandemic – it’s clear today’s caregivers are under a more complex strain than any previous sandwich generation before them.”

In fact, approximately half (44 percent) of the sandwich generation say the pandemic has made it harder to juggle their caregiving responsibilities, according to a recent survey from Home Instead, Inc. In addition to concern for the impact of COVID on aging loved ones (67 percent) or children (57 percent), these family caregivers also say personal financial and mental health concerns (54 percent), concern for the mental health of their aging loved one (50 percent), and childcare challenges (41 percent) are all contributing to their challenges.

The Home Instead survey revealed that these issues are manifesting in many ways. Nearly half (48 percent) have avoided personal travel, cut expenses, or shifted budgets (45 percent) to meet the responsibilities of caring for an aging parent. One very sobering statistic: almost one in four of the sandwich generation (23 percent) have quit a job that made it too hard to be a caregiver for an aging loved one.

The outlook is not much better for those who have remained in the workforce. Among the working sandwich generation caregivers, 48 percent say their employer has warned them that their caregiving responsibilities are jeopardizing their job. And the majority feel they have been passed over for either a promotion (59 percent) or raise (56 percent) because of their caregiving responsibilities.

Unfortunately, help feels out of reach for many, as the majority of the sandwich generation (59 percent) doesn’t know where to turn or how to ask for help when it comes to relief from their caregiving duties.

“It is absolutely critical that we support those caring for young children and their aging loved ones simultaneously,” implored Bishop. “We hear from these families every day, and while some opt for help in the form of professional care, there are many things that can be done by employers, friends, and others.”

Just as most family caregivers don’t know what to ask for, many in their circles don’t know how they can help. Beyond the open-ended, “Let me know what you need,” it’s helpful for friends and loved ones to offer specific suggestions. Home Instead offers ideas for those who want to show their support.

Hands On Help: Taking a few tasks off a family caregiver’s plate can help them catch up on other tasks or simply recharge.

  • Invite their kids for an outing or offer them a ride. Offer a playdate or have their kids join you on your next outing to the park or other kid-friendly destination. If your kids go to the same school or are on the same team, pick their kids up on the way.
  • Meet their parents. If you feel comfortable, offer to spend time with the person’s aging loved one so they can take a short break. You could offer to bring over coffee and chat or take the loved one to lunch or for a drive.
  • Deliver a care package. On your next grocery run, consider picking up a few essentials to make a porch delivery. You might ask what they need and add in a few items you know they’ll want.

Moral Support: Just being there for a family caregiver can be the release valve they need.

  • Listen and be empathetic. When people are under stress, sometimes they just want to feel heard. Instead of offering advice, listen and acknowledge that this is hard, and you’re sorry they’re going through this. Most of all, do not be judgmental of how loved ones decide to provide care to their elders or their children. Be supportive.
  • Give your friend some space but keep them included. Burnout is common. Look for signs of isolation and depression and keep reaching out, even if they’re not always able to respond. It’s also important to let your friend opt-out of social interaction. Keep them included with invitations to social activities, but don’t make them feel guilty when they decline.
  • Be supportive in the workplace. Working caregivers often feel torn between being a good employee and being a good daughter, son, or parent. Ensure your colleagues feel comfortable taking the time they need for urgent family matters. Work together to align on manageable expectations.

To support sandwich generation caregivers and their families, Home Instead offers a selection of free resources for family caregivers and their employers, available at www.HomeInstead.com/SandwichGen. Bishop encourages those feeling pressure to check it out.

“If you’re in a good place with your own wellness, you can be a far stronger care provider for your loved ones,” Bishop said.

For those seeking professional support, your local Home Instead Care Professionals may be available to offer care. Local Home Instead offices can provide personalized care plans for aging loved ones, tailored to meet the unique needs of families and help alleviate pressure – allowing more room for other responsibilities, or simply time to rest. For more information, visit www.homeinstead.com/state/ to find an office near you.

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