If you are a caregiver who is working outside your home, you know about the challenges faced by the “sandwich generation.” Once merely juggling the demands of home, office, and caring for your children, you now have an additional responsibility: caring for your aging parents.
Today, the sandwich generation includes nearly half of all Americans in their 40s and 50s, and it’s projected to get even bigger. U.S. Census data show the numbers of seniors are swelling: by 2030, there will be about 72.1 million people over the age of 65, more than twice their number in 2000. While people are living longer, they’re not necessarily healthier, and they require help. Caregivers are spending roughly 20 hours a week, over 1,350 hours per year, on caring for aging parents, according to a National Alliance of Caregiving study.
Employees who care for both their parents and family are pulled in multiple directions, and the stress affects their own lives and job performance, says Rita Mabli, president and CEO of United Hebrew of New Rochelle. “Caregivers may be distracted at work, or have to take more personal days. The frustration of having too many ‘jobs,’ and disappointment that you are not doing any of them well, can hurt your health or lead to depression or anxiety,” notes Mabli, who has experienced “sandwich stress” herself.
But don’t lose hope. You can find ways to ease the stress. Here are 6 tips to make things more manageable:
- Talk to your employer: Discuss your caregiving status with your employer, advises Mabli. “At United Hebrew of New Rochelle, we have seen our fair share of caregiver stress, both in the families that come to us for help, and among our staff of 700 employees. Many employers are aware of the demands of being a caregiver and may be willing to accommodate your schedule changes in a way that balances your needs with the needs of the organization.” While unexpected events are inevitable, establishing an open line of communication upfront will help avoid surprises later, adds Mabli.
- Prioritize, and get organized: Sandwiched middle-aged adults are managing a vast array of support services for their aging parents, from shuttling them to doctors’ appointments and managing their medications, to helping with day-to-day shopping and cleaning. “If you add in responsibilities with your kids and your job, sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day,” says Mabli. “Take care of what’s truly important to you and your family, and think about cutting back on other commitments. Electronic reminders, and the variety of apps for staying organized, help, too!”
- Seek help: Sometimes, you just can’t go it alone. Seek information on supportive care services, whether in the home, or in a long-term care setting. For those who have parents with increasingly fragile health or who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, leverage long-term and assisted living options in the area, says Mabli. “United Hebrew’s eldercare experts can help navigate the pathways of senior care, and provide information to adult children searching for care at home or looking into residential care services for their parents.”
- Recharge with respite care. With the unyielding responsibilities of caregiving, you may need to temporarily take step back from your role in order to rest and recharge. Respite care, in which adult children can arrange short-term overnight stays in senior living communities for their loved ones, can provide much-needed relief from caregiver burnout, according to Mabli. Respite stays can also be a way to experience what a senior living community has to offer, should assisted living or long-term care become necessary down the road.
- Be flexible: Know that even when you solve today’s crisis, other crises may occur. People’s needs evolve as they age, and the level of care must increase, says Mabli. “The elderly often require a continuum of care—transitioning from independent living and assisted living, to possibly memory care and long-term skilled nursing. Organizations that can provide stepped up care at the same location, such as United Hebrew, can help you plan ahead for care if it is needed.”
- Don’t strive for perfection: Applaud your efforts! “In whatever matter, shape, or form you are caring for your family, you are probably doing a better job than you think you are,” notes Mabli. “You may not have a spotless house, gourmet meals, and every errand taken care of. That’s okay. Perfection is impossible. Doing your best is attainable.”