SANDWICH GENERATION: middle agers caught between caring for children as well as elderly parents

This may not be a new term to you, but sandwich generation is a term which needs to be lifted up every now and then just to remember what some people are experiencing.  It is a term which became popular in the 1980 era, which refers to the dual-care role played by many Americans these days.  Parents grow older and require personal care and youngsters continue to look to the same care-giver for hands-on attention.

That delicate balancing act is a familiar one in far more American homes than you might expect. An estimated 16 million Americans — more people than live in all of New England — find themselves “sandwiched” between two generations, struggling to raise their kids while caring for an aging loved one.

That number is about to explode: In 25 years, there will be 60 million Americans between the ages of 66 and 84, many of them needing full- or part-time care.    (CBS News)

As an aging person I look around at my peers and recognize the signs.  I have captured some of them myself.   Knees and hips replaced, orthopedic problems, gastrointestinal complications, memory loss, vision and hearing issues, incontinence, severe arthritis: they are topics of conversation whenever we sit down with friends to talk.  We used to talk about sports, movies, books, travel, and interesting topics which kept us young and active.  But there is far too much talk these days about which doctor to see, which hospital to avoid, and health insurance problems.

It isn’t hard to spot the signs of sandwich generation.  Adult kids hovering, visiting more, asking probing questions, offering health care advice, all while they are caring for grandchildren for their own children who need two incomes to survive.   The struggling economy is not home free on this issue.  We ourselves may be the filling on the sandwich, but more and more we are the bread on top as our needs require more assistance.

The aging issue in our country is surging.   Better medications and surgical procedures mean longer life.  There is no reason to fail to believe that we might well survive into our 90′s or even beyond.  The possibility exists that the sandwich may become a three-decker or even four!  I suppose a new protocol will emerge stipulating which generation has responsibility for which.

The growing incidence of memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease is frightening to families who have their eyes open to inter-generation care-giving.   It is a dynamic unto itself, requiring special skills and lots of professional assistance.   Care facilities for memory-impaired seniors are increasingly available, but can be costly.   Many require self-payment and do not accept Medicaid.  For many Americans that is prohibitive, with costs ranging in the $6,000 to $8,000 per month category.   Day care for memory-impaired adults is available and can be a positive factor, giving respite for family care-givers, but even with that a middle-aged family can find itself captured and incapable of adequate attention to the needs of the rest of their family … and themselves.

And the care required for children, even as they enter adulthood, can be overwhelming at the same time.   Work issues, child care, economic needs, health care for themselves and their family, and even important social interaction with them can suffer by being torn between the needs of two or more generations.

There is no concluding sentence to this blog entry which says, “The answer to this is….”    Families have to work out their own solutions, hopefully depending upon organizations and agencies which can provide assistance. But the formula for each family is unique.


Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong, (AP)

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