The Sandwich Generation

As the elderly population grows and a new crop of young adults are financially struggling to attain a solid financial foothold in trying economic times, individuals ‘sandwiched' between aging parents and adult children are adequately referred to as ‘the sandwich generation'. This is because they are often put in the position to care for both their children and parents simultaneously, and this support is often both emotional and financial.

Understanding the Demographics of The Sandwich Generation

This rising demographic already accounts for about 47 percent of adults in their 40s and 50s who have a parent 65 or older and are also raising a youngster or supporting a grown child. In fact, one in seven of these adults are financially assisting both their parents and one or more children. However, there are many scenarios in this situation, and aging and elder care expert Carol Abaya offers a three roles those in the sandwich generation typically fall into:

  • The Traditional Sandwich Generation — Adults typically in their 40s or early 50s sandwiched between their elderly parents and their typically adult children who both need financial or other assistance.
  • The Club Sandwich Generation — Older adults in their 50 or 60s who are wedged between aging parents, their adult children and possibly grandchildren. This term can also refer to younger adults in their 30s or 40s who have younger children, elderly parents and aging grandparents.
  • The Open Faced Sandwich Generation — Anyone who's non-professionally involved in elder care, which is an estimated 25% of individuals at some point in their lives.

The term ‘sandwich generation' is becoming so commonplace that it was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2006. However, the dictionary fails to mention the heavy financial and emotional stress that being a part of this generation can cause on caregivers.

The Multiple Stress Factors Faced By the Sandwich Generation

While the number of sandwich generation's members having increased dramatically, statistics show that the financial burdens associated with being responsible for multiple generations are rising. Interestingly, it's primarily not elderly parents or grandparents posing the burden, but rather their adult children.

With more post-college youths coming home to live with parents or doing so throughout school, there are now estimates that almost 30% of 25-34 year olds reside with their parents. Essentially this leaves parents taking care of many of their children's financial burdens in addition to tending to other responsibilities they may bring about.

As if this isn't stressful enough, those amid the sandwich generation are handed double duty by also wanting or needing to help take care of their aging parents—a role many consider far more their responsibility than taking care of adult children. Whether their parents live at home, in a facility or within their home, the stress can become overwhelming. The burdens of medical costs, helping with daily activities, overseeing supervision, legal considerations and other concerns can take a physical and emotional toll on top of ongoing financial concerns.

With so many stressors, the sandwich generation can often experience:

  • Caregiver burnout and feelings of depression, guilt and isolation.
  • Issues finding the time to be a good spouse, parent, and child simultaneously.
  • Trouble managing work, hobbies, relationships and time for themselves.
  • Psychological issues as they struggle with being pulled in multiple directions every day.

These are only a few potential fallbacks to being a caregiver sandwiched between two generations, but these tips can help keep one on track.

Stress Busting Tips for Members of the Sandwich Generation

The primary mission of a caregiver is to keep everyone safe, happy and healthy. However, they often neglect to care for their own needs. Fortunately, these tips can help reduce stress in the family, help relieve financial burdens and promote a more positive experience.

  • Help financially dependent adult children get started in the world with job tips, advice, etc. If they live in their own place, consider the cost savings of moving them back into your home.
  • Consider having aging parents move into your home to curb expenses.
  • Think about investing in a medical alert system to make sure your loved one is monitored 24 hours a day.
  • Think about providing your parents with part time in-home senior care, as even a few hours of outside assistance can be a lifesaver when it comes to relieving caregiver stress.
  • Whomever you're responsible for financially, set boundaries with each party by agreeing to provide them with a set amount of support each month or year for pre-determined expenses.
  • Consider an identity theft protection service to prevent your loved one from being scammed or having their identity stolen.
  • Tax benefits for the elderly and for children of a certain age enrolled in higher education often qualify for tax benefits and breaks. Medical expense claims can also reduce federal tax liability.
  • Keep the doors of communication open at all times concerning expectations of family members, their feelings and attempt to resolve any noted issues quickly to keep stress levels low all around.
  • Purchase a high quality hearing aid to make sure that seniors are as alert to their surroundings as ever.

This isn't in the bullet list because it's the most vital aspect of being a successful sandwich generation caregiver—Be kind to yourself! Self care is essential, yet can be easily neglected when your time is balanced ever so cautiously between navigating all of your family member's needs. Be sure to eat right, take plenty of down time to do things you enjoy, get ample sleep, lots of laugh and never hesitate to ask for help when it's necessary. There are support groups, assisted living options and professional counseling that can help when all resources are exhausted.

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