Relieving the burden of the sandwich generation
by Natasha Josefowitz
Feb 28, 2013 | 2551 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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There is a generation of people with older children who may still need some parenting and aging parents who need to be intermittently — or frequently — taken care of. These people are called the “sandwich generation” because they are being pushed by the demands of both the younger and older generations. For many, it becomes increasingly difficult to cope with the attention and help needed by their parents.

There comes a time when it is not clear whether these older adults are being compliant about taking their medicines, whether they can shop for and prepare their own food, balance a checkbook, go out and see friends, or whether they are instead at home watching television all day.

I have written about how to tell a parent that they should stop driving. This is difficult enough, but how can you tell a parent that they cannot be relied on to take care of themselves? And how can you even broach the subject that you — their own child — cannot be responsible for their day-to-day well-being? The sooner adult children deal with issues facing their aging parents, the easier it will be when emergencies arise.

Even if there is hired help, employees need to be supervised. There are too many stories of elder abuse to not stay on top of the situation. All this becomes increasingly difficult if the children live far away or have busy lives of their own.

Many of these older folks do not want to move to a facility where they will be looked after. They live in familiar surroundings and even if these are inadequate, they prefer the known to an unfamiliar situation. Even if staying in their own home is no longer an option, the move may feel overwhelming, particularly when it comes to what to do with their belongings. There must be reassurance that the beloved knickknacks and furnishings will find new homes, and that the children will help in managing both the logistical and emotional obstacles of the transition.

One of the issues that must be dealt with is the older generation’s false image of a retirement community as a home for the aged — or worse, the poor house or a nursing home with neglected seniors sitting in rows of wheelchairs in some dark hallway. The perception that the children are putting mom or dad “away” in order to get rid of them has to be confronted. The children must also deal with their own guilt and the stress caused by the role reversal as they become caretakers of their parents.

I had that struggle with my widowed mother. She lived in Los Angeles while I was in San Diego, and I traveled every week to take her to doctor’s appointments and to see that the frequent repairs were being done to the old house. As wonderful as it was to still have a mother in her 90s, it was a hardship. Both my husband and I had full-time jobs and never felt like we could get away for a weekend or holiday since there was no one else to check on my mother. I was not successful in getting my fiercely independent Russian mother to move to a retirement community and instead spent time worrying about her and dealing with countless emergencies: her caretaker did not show up, she had a stomach ache, a pipe leaked.

So what to do? How do you get your parents somewhere safe, where they can be taken care of — with available nursing staff 24/7, good nutrition and especially the availability of social activities?

The one thing that I find seems to work best is to admit that it is becoming increasingly difficult to give the necessary time to care for them. They, of course, may deny that they need help, and even if it is pointed out, some might fight tooth and nail against being moved out of their homes. Taking the parents for lunch to visit such a facility, having them meet staff and residents, maybe even staying overnight is a beginning. Sometimes insisting on a trial period may be necessary.

It is important to point out the disadvantages of staying put, including possible medical emergencies, as well as the advantages of a retirement community. Many of their friends are too old to visit or have passed away and neighbors are busy with work and their own families. Isolation, boredom and loneliness are offset by being with other retirees and joining in fun and stimulating activities. Families should also discuss the benefits to changing their relationships from worrying and struggling for control to feeling safe, satisfied and independent. This will allow aging parents and their children and grandchildren to enjoy each other and the time they spend together on visits.

If none of this works, have an outside person, maybe a friend, tell them how hard it is for the kids to be caretakers and that they should move for their children’s sake. What they are doing is giving their kids a gift by delivering them from worry.

I wish all my readers good luck. I, for one, am a believer that people my age should not live alone but be part of a community where life can be a new adventure everyday.

— Natasha Josefowitz taught the first course in the U.S. on women in management and is the author of 19 books. She lives at White Sands La Jolla.
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