If you find yourself caring for elderly parents while you still have children at home — sometimes young or fresh out of the nest but still requiring support — you’re a member of the sandwich generation. As the trend toward having children later in life has increased, many people find themselves in this challenging situation. Below, find some tips on how to cope with this oftentimes daunting life stage.
You are not alone.
According to the Pew Research Center1, nearly 50% of adults between the ages of 40 and 59 have children at home and/or an adult child they still support and a parent that is 65+ requiring increasing levels of care. Just the awareness that many others are experiencing the same struggles you are can be of great solace.
Find your tribe.
Those who work in senior and memory care are well aware of the burdens placed upon this generation and can offer many levels of support. Seek out dementia and Alzheimer’s organizations in your area to access support groups and other non-profit resources.
Visit local assisted living communities.
When you are in the middle of a crisis it’s the worst time to make a big decision. Try to be proactive and visit assisted living and memory care communities in your area for a free consultation. Not only will you be doing valuable research about where you’d like to place your loved one when the time comes, but they can offer solid advice and help you formulate a long-term plan.
Another bonus: visiting these communities with your parent before they are in the advanced stages of memory loss empowers them to make their own choices about their future which will ease stress and anxiety on both your parts.
Create a safe and accessible home environment.
If you are caring for your loved one at home, or prepping their home so they can be independent longer, you don’t have to go through a total remodel to accommodate their growing needs. The biggest risk you want to address are falls, which will precipitate hospitalization and surgical interventions that are known to contribute to cognitive decline. Some of the simplest adaptations are:
- Installing motion-sensitive lighting
- Remove trip hazards (i.e., exposed cords, edges of area rugs, uneven thresholds)
- Install handrails to toilets and bath/shower areas
- Rearrange cupboards so everyday items are accessible
Remember the smallest members of your family.
It’s easy to forget that children are alert and aware of what goes on in your home. Even if they aren’t able to understand it, they still have emotional reactions, especially when they see that their parents are stressed to the max. In this type of situation, it’s just not possible to protect them from the big realities of your situation.
Be as open and frank with them as you can, sharing why your stressed and your sadness, too. Then come up with a game plan on great ways that they can interact with their grandparent (for example, art and music are always good). The more open and communicative your family is, the better off everyone will be when decline sets in.
Make self-care a priority.
Yeah, yeah, we know this has been a big buzz word for the last few years. But just like it was touted when caring for a newborn, the same holds true here. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you simply won’t have anything else to give. And extreme stress can lead to illness, so imagine the predicament you’d be in should you not be able to care for your loved one because you are sick, or even worse, hospitalized.
Some the easiest ways to take care of you are making good, healthy eating choices, finding time to exercise every day — whether that’s 20 minutes of yoga, a brief stroll or quick run — and above all else, incorporating fun into your life any way you can get it. The mediation hype is definitely worth a go. If you haven’t tried it, you are cheating yourself out of a great add to your day!
Look into respite care.
Home care agencies abound where they offer day (and night) sitters to give the primary caregiver a break. The services they are offer range from simple companionship to driving, administering meds, meal prep, bathing, dressing and toileting. That will leave room for you to have quality time with your spouse and kids, attend school and sport events, or simply enjoy a night on the town.
Get to know your parent as they are now — not as they were before.
This is a tricky one, but a great skill to develop that will help both of you cope as things progress. Take a step back and imagine you are meeting your parent for the very first time. You’ll find new ways to connect, discover creative ways to communicate and lay the groundwork for a deeper level of compassion as you come to terms with who they are now, and what they’re capable of in every given moment.
Go easy on yourself.
Taking care of your ailing parent is emotionally draining on so many levels. Add to that caring for your kids, and maintaining a healthy relationship with your spouse, and you’ve got a real pressure cooker situation. Remember that you don’t have to strive for perfection, you are human and be quick to forgive when you aren’t your best.
This too shall pass.
While this advice may be overplayed, it holds true in this case. Keeping this mantra in mind will help you cope with the more stressful situations, and hold dear those last few moments with your loved one. Try to remind yourself that this is but a small chapter in your life that will soon come to a close. You’ve got this.