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The term “sandwich generation” was originally coined by social worker Dorothy Miller in 1981 to describe women in their 30s to 40s who act as primary caregivers to both young children and aging parents and so are sandwiched between generations. A lot has changed since the 80s. Women now delay child-bearing and seniors live longer, so with these added variables this definition has been redefined and tends to target both genders between 40-65 years of age. Its members are now mostly middle-aged: 71% of this group is 40 to 59, 19% are younger than 40, and 10% are age 60 or older. Three-in-ten Hispanic adults (31%) have a parent age 65 or older and a dependent child compared with 24% of whites and 21% of African-Americans. Married adults, about 36%, and 13% of singles fall into the “sandwich generation” according to the Pew Research Center’s study conducted in 2012. Affluent adults whose annual household income averages $100,000 are more likely to care for parents and children than less prosperous adults. The higher income group is more often married and able to take care of the older and younger generations since a spouse can stay at home and provide assistance. See the article by Kim Parker and Eileen Patten, “The Sandwich Generation Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged American” at http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/.
Some of these statistics can be misleading such as the age where parents may need help. Baby Boomers 65 and older, both married and single, are often healthier, more socially and mentally active, and work longer than their parent’s generation. They also still have large houses that can accommodate an older person. Therefore, the 65-year-old of today may more likely be the caregiver rather than the one who needs care. Baby Boomers often spent their adult life as caregivers or working in caretaking professions such as; health care, education, and those in the service industry, the traditional occupations of that generation. Single Boomers who may not be as affluent as marrieds are often called upon to care for others because their married siblings have other responsibilities and it’s felt they’ve more free time. They take responsibility for these duties without the emotional and financial support of a spouse. This blog will focus on the care of elderly parents and other aging relatives and will be followed by one detailing how single Baby Boomer with children and grandchildren assist them.
With the elderly and aging Baby Boomer population needing extra care now and in the future, The National Center on Caregiving (NCC) was created “ … to advance the development of high-quality, cost-effective policies and programs for caregivers in every state in the country.” In their article “Caregiving in the U.S.” at https://www.caregiver.org/national-center-caregiving, they compiled data from many studies and reports that reveal the following information about caregivers:
- The majority of U.S. caregivers are middle-aged (35-64 years old). The typical person is a 46-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends more than 20 hours per week providing unpaid care to her mother.
- Among caregivers age 50-64 years old, an estimated 60% work full or part-time.
- Ethnic minority caregivers provide more care and report worse physical health than their white counterparts.
- The average age of Baby Boomer caregivers is 63 years with one-third of these in fair to poor health.
- Nearly half of caregivers provide fewer than eight hours of assistance weekly, while almost one in five provide more than 40 hours of care per week. A statewide California study of caregivers of adults with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s showed they provided an average of 84 hours of care a week.
- Caregiving can last from less than a year to more than 40 years. In a 2003 study, caregivers were found to spend an average of 4.3 years providing care. Older caregivers (50+) are more likely to have been caregiving for more than 10 years.
- Most caregivers live near the people in their care. Eighty-three percent care for relatives, with 24% living with the care recipient, 61% living up to one hour away, and 15% living a one-to-two-hour or more drive away.
Caregiving and support can mean many different things. Cohabitating with an elder is one way, but both single and married Baby Boomer offer emotional, financial, and personal support like running errands, taking them to doctors, helping them with bathing, and other tasks while elders live in their own home or a care facility. All of this comes at a price. The most obvious are time and money, but emotional and physical stress is often most debilitating for the caregiver. Research compiled by the National Center on Caregiving found “It’s more common for caregivers than for non-caregivers to experience anxiety, depression and other symptoms of emotional stress. Estimates of the percentage of caregivers reporting symptoms of depression range between 20% and 50%, with a higher incidence of depression reported by those caring for people with dementia … caregivers are at increased risk of developing elevated blood pressure and insulin levels, a weakened immune system and cardiovascular complications. Overall, female caregivers who are most often the ones giving support are at greater risk than men for developing these symptoms.”
- financial concerns
- work conflicts
- marriage and family tension and disputes
- feelings of isolation
- poor health due to neglecting their own physical and emotional needs
The information above was reported in the article “Depression in the Sandwich Generation” was provided by Laura Nitzberg, BA, MS, Lead Social Worker at the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. http://www.depressiontoolkit.org/news/depression_in_the_sandwich_generation.asp
So how do single Baby Boomers support elderly parents and other relatives without putting themselves in jeopardy?
- Encourage the person in your care, if they’re able, to protect their finances and legal and medical rights by using a financial advisor, setting up a living trust, and getting their other legal and end of life issues in order.
- Ensure your own physical and emotional health with annual physicals, doctor visits if you’re feeling ill, taking prescribed medications, good nutrition, exercise, and adequate sleep.
- Set boundaries with the person under your care and your family. You can’t do it alone. Get respite help from other family members or outside agencies. Socialize with friends and get a change of scenery with a trip. They can and will survive without you.
- Let go of the guilt. Once you’ve set the boundaries it’s easy to backpedal and feel guilty about tending to your own needs, but if you don’t you won’t be able to provide care for anyone, let alone yourself. If you need emotional help and support go to a professional. An untrained person may not understand and can undermine your psychological health.
Remember you’re not alone if you’re a single Baby Boomer who’s part of the “sandwich generation”. There are many Boomers, both married and single, who have or are walking in your shoes. Ask them for help and suggestions or seek help from professionals. Then take this input and tailor it to your needs. Most caregivers do their best, but if you’re not the primary caregiver you need to be aware of any elder abuse. If you suspect this is occurring, report it to authorities and get help with finding a new elder care solution. The blogs at A Place for Mom http://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/ and http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/?intcmp=LNK-BRD-MC-REALPOSS-GTAC offer excellent information for anyone who needs guidance when making a decision about their loved one’s care.
Continue the adventure!