‘Sandwich’ generation find themselves stressed due to pressures of caring for aging parents and own familiesFARGO - She’s 49, works outside the home, and for almost five years spends about 20 hours a week providing unpaid care for her mother. That’s what today’s “average” American family caregiver looks like, according to research from the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP.
By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM
If you go
What: 9th Annual Fargo-Moorhead Caregiver Conference.
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave. N., Moorhead.
Info: Seminar is free. To register, call (218) 299-5514.
What: There is No “They”: Delivering Care from the Customer’s Perspective .
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 15.
Where: Holiday Inn, Fargo.
Info: Free and open to public. (701) 356-1570.
- AARP Caregiving Resource Center: www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving
- North Dakota caregiving resources: www.carechoice.nd.gov or (855) 462-5465
- Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota: www.lssmn.org/olderadult or (218) 233-7521
- Home Instead Senior Care will offer a free family caregiver support web seminar at noon Nov. 28. Pre-register at caregiverstress.com/familyeducation.
FARGO - She’s 49, works outside the home, and for almost five years spends about 20 hours a week providing unpaid care for her mother.
That’s what today’s “average” American family caregiver looks like, according to research from the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP.
These caregivers find themselves in the “sandwich” generation, sandwiched between the needs of an aging parent and their own children or grandchildren. Most work full or part time. Almost two-thirds of family caregivers are women, the AARP says.
There are an estimated 109,000 unpaid caregivers caring for older friends or family members in North Dakota, according to AARP. In Minnesota, 92 percent of caregiving is done by friends and family, says Tara Giese, caregiving respite coordinator for Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota.
“If caregiving hasn’t touched your life, it’s probably going to,” Giese says.
Laura Fischer, family caregiver coordinator for southeast North Dakota, says most of the caregivers she works with are spouses, but adds that there are getting to be more adult children providing care. “As our baby boomers age, I think we’ll see more and more of that,” Fischer says.
On Tuesday, a caregiving conference will be held at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, addressing caregiver stress, depression and burnout and providing information on resources available to caregivers.
In November, author Larry Johnson will address the often disjointed and misdirected nature of health care. The title of his speech, “There Is No ‘They’ ” refers to how after his wife was disabled in an accident, people kept asking how “they” thought she was progressing.
“It was as if everyone interested thought there was some ‘they’ out there who was monitoring our experience to make sure everything was handled just right – and so did we,” Johnson says. “Unfortunately, we discovered that there simply was no ‘they.’ There was just us, and we had to find our own way.”
And so it is for many caregivers, spouses as well as generational caregivers, who have the added challenge of balancing work, family obligations and the reversal of roles that occurs when parents need to be cared for by their children.
‘We’ll do what it takes’
Rose Dunn, 53, of Moorhead, identifies herself as part of that sandwich generation. She and her sisters, as well as their husbands and children, have created a support network to provide care for her 84-year-old mother, Betty.
Dunn’s younger sister lives just around the corner. Her older sister lives in Texas. Their caregiver arrangement started evolving a couple of years ago.
“We just stepped in a little more, started having her stay with us a little more,” especially during the winter months and this summer as Betty recovered from a heart attack, Dunn says.
Dunn says her position in the sandwich generation occurred to her this summer.
“My son was getting his driver’s license the same summer my mom was giving hers up,” she says. “Now this year, when he went off to college, she kind of moved into his room.”
Dunn says being a caregiver is time consuming, as the family tries to keep her mom occupied and engaged. Dunn has cut back on work to care for her, and enlisted respite care services.
“We’re taking it a step at a time. We’re going to care for her as long as we can,” she says. “She’s my mom and I love her and we’ll do what it takes.”
Challenges in the sandwich
Probably the biggest challenge sandwiched caregivers face is not having enough time to do it all, says Kirsten Frantsvog, a Hospice chaplain working on a master’s degree in counseling who has studied the sandwich generation. She’ll be speaking at Tuesday’s Caregiver Conference.
As a result, the caregiver’s own self-care gets left behind, Frantsvog says.
“That could include giving up exercise, poor eating,” she says. “The stress itself can cause physical problems, emotional problems, because of the level of stress and not being able to attend to oneself.”
In the sandwich generation, this lack of self-care is modeled to the next generation, adds Beth Haseltine, Hospice’s manager of clinical development/bereavement. For example, poor nutritional habits could affect the caregiver’s children.
The added stress can affect relationships on both sides. “There’s the potential for it, rather than being a peaceful time, it gets pretty stressed out for everybody,” Frantsvog says.
There are also financial strains. An employed caregiver with children might need to pay for both childcare as well as adult day care.
In North Dakota, respite care is only available for hours when the caregiver would be home caring for the senior, so it’s not available when the caregiver is working, Fischer says. While some assistance is available to those with lower incomes, many family caregivers pay privately.
Caregivers often cut back on work or quit. The AARP shows that 68 percent of employees caring for an adult age 50 or older have made work accommodations, such as reducing hours or quitting a job.
“That affects their long-term financial situation, when people aren’t getting Social Security credits … or saving for retirement,” Giese says.
There also is the concern of social isolation. When the aging parent dies, the caregiver may find they have lost social connections. “Their friends have moved on,” Giese says. “They don’t even remember what they used to do.”
Giese says statistics show 53 percent of caregivers are diagnosed with depression. She expects far more are depressed but not diagnosed.
“They sacrifice a lot of times their own well-being, not taking care of themselves,” Giese says. “Statistics will show you often the caregiver becomes sicker than the person they care for.”
Caregivers need to learn to delegate, ask for and accept help, Giese says.
“Sometimes we’re taught that asking for help is in some way failing. We’re a pretty stoic culture,” she says.
Giese coordinates respite care provided through Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota. It is available in 21 Minnesota counties, including Clay County. LSS of MN also offers caregiver training, education, counseling and support.
Respite care or other assistance may be available through government agencies or state and national organizations devoted to particular diseases, such as the ALS Association.
Fischer says some long-term care insurance policies provide benefits for seniors being cared for at home. She suggests checking with the insurance provider.
Haseltine says working caregivers should check with their human resources department to see if the workplace offers an employee assistance program. Some employers may make leave available to caregivers, Frantsvog adds, such as through the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Caregivers also need to find emotional support, whether through a church, counseling or support groups. Locally, First Link (www.myfirstlink.org) has a list of such groups, Haseltine says.
AARP.org has recently launched an online community where caregivers can connect with experts and others like them.
Janis Cheney, state director of AARP in North Dakota, says the organization’s concern for caregiving stems both from older members needing care and the younger members, age 50 and older, providing it.
Cheney says she has been in a long-distance caregiving situation for the last 15 years, along with her two siblings.
“While none of us resent the time spent helping them, it’s had a huge impact on our family lives as well,” Cheney says.
She stresses the importance of communication, and talking about care options before a crisis occurs.
AARP offers “Prepare to Care,” a planning guide for families, which includes a checklist, glossary of terms and list of resources.
“The more you can look at options before there is some kind of crisis, the better off you’ll be,” she says.