(Guest Post by Caregiving Cafe)
According to Pew Research’s report titled “The Sandwich Generation,” 47% of US adults in their 40’s and 50’s have a parent who is 65 or older and are caring for a child 18 or younger, or are supporting a grown child. Many are providing caregiving as well as financial and emotional support. [Pew Research, January 2013]
With advancing age, the likelihood of an aging parent needing help by the time a child becomes a young adult is rather great. The picture becomes a bit more complex as grown children experiencing hardship (financial or emotional) pull at their parents’ heartstrings (and wallet).
I have had a taste of this dubious “sandwich” while caring long-distance for my mother and raising our daughter. Mine was actually loaded with the “extras,” as I also began to care for my husband when our daughter had just turned 13. He became disabled as a result of CRPS, a painful and debilitating neurological disease.
Caregiving for one person is, in my opinion, the ultimate roller-coaster ride. Caring for 2 or 3 people, with distinct needs, temperaments and coping abilities, requires methodical coordination of tasks, clear thinking, teamwork, stamina & chutzpah! This would ideally be something in which the entire family would engage. Sadly, it is not always so.
I see caregiving as a massive project that’s divided into 2 main parts:
1) the practical side – tasks, errands, making appointments, cleaning house, grooming, medication management, transportation, Activities of Daily Living, cooking, forms, etc.
2) the emotional side – love, compassion, assistance, companionship, kindness, etc.
If I tackle the practical side in an efficient and impartial manner, I can better manage my duties with a level head and accomplish more. This allows me to put my emotions where they will do some good: staying motivated to fulfill my responsibilities and providing diligent care with empathy and love.
Like anything that we undertake, our approach and perspective to caregiving as part of the “Sandwich Generation” can make the difference between overwhelm and sanity. I have assembled some tips below, hoping to make your experience a more sensible and enjoyable one.
- Relax the rules and controls. Don’t be too picky, especially when other people are helping – as long as the desired results are achieved.
- Patience, patience, patience. Everyone – family members, friends, caregivers, carees – needs to remember that illness, aging or our emotions toward them can make us behave in ways or make comments that are “out of sorts.” Be patient with your children, with your caree and with yourself.
- Stress independence but chip in to help your caree or child as needed. Allow him or her to do as much as is safe and sensible. It builds confidence.
- Be open to creative and out-of-the-ordinary solutions. If you need to move furniture around or use items in novel ways in order to make life easier for your loved one, do so. (We use a tall patio table to place small items that hubby needs to keep handy because normal indoor tables are too low for his recliner.)
- Have an agenda and requirements for each person. Prioritize. Combine all agendas into 1 Master Agenda and fit in tasks, coordinate times, combine errands, etc. to optimize your time.
- Prepare in advance as much as possible; anticipate needs.
- Simplify life and tasks. Do away with unnecessary tasks AND get help.
- Involve relatives and friends in care. Carpool with other parents when possible. Don’t wait to be offered help, as people are often waiting for you to ask them or may not realize that you need or want help!
- Make time for YOU! Tell everyone you need to take care of yourself in order to continue caring for your loved ones. Schedule small breaks throughout the day and then take those breaks.
- Get the right equipment to make your job easier: containers to keep supplies organized and accessible, a walker, rails, a ramp for the front door if your loved one uses crutches or mobility devices, switches and other assistive technology devices, etc.
- Make time to talk, visit, listen, laugh with your loved ones. Forget care for a while; laugh and talk about enjoyable interests, memories or daydreams.
- Use reminders to stay on top of schedules, medications, appointments, etc.: notes, timers, iDevices, email, alarms and your Master Agenda!
- Come up with a plan that works for the caregiver and for all who need care. For example, my husband calls me when he awakens to let me know that he’s ready to eat. Our daughter would text me when she arrived at her destination or when heading home after late evening theater rehearsals.
- Remain flexible and ready to execute an entirely different plan! Caregiving is full of surprises, so accept the spontaneity and smile! Go with the flow – it will save you much frustration, worry and anxiety.
- Vent, talk, write, journal, go out, socialize! Impossible? Only if you decide that it is so. You can decide that you are going to find a way to squeeze in some breaks. A few minutes a day are better than nothing. It is important to keep your spirits up no matter how busy your agenda is. Review your list of tasks and see which ones can wait a little, can be done by others, or can be skipped entirely.
- Gather the “tools” you need to manage the job:
- Go online for information and resources that provide tips and how to do different tasks. [ CaregiverActionNetwork.org Caregiver.com AgingCare.com ]
- Learn about conditions affecting your caree: knowledge is power and gives you the ability to make informed decisions. It also allows you to act, rather than to react, to your loved one’s behavior in the appropriate manner. [ Medivizor.com ]
- Use high-tech devices, software, apps and websites to help with your caregiving responsibilities:
- monitor a loved one’s progress or condition [ eCaring.com ]
- track and organize health records [ Healthspek.com ]
- keep notes handy for doctors’ appointments [ Express-Well.com ]
- manage medications [ RememberItNow.com ]
- connect with other caregivers [ TheCaregiverSpace.org CareGiving.com TreatmentDiaries.com ]
- have a “Phone Buddy” to keep you company when you’re waiting for a procedure to be done
- coordinate tasks and helpers [ InvolveCare.com LotsaHelpingHands.com CaringBridgeSupportPlanner ]
- keep family and friends updated on health conditions [ CaringBridgeSites CarePages.com ]
- Use the services that have been created to help family caregivers: hire a helper when needed, take your aging loved one to an Adult Day Center (some are free or may be covered by your insurance carrier), some senior living residences may let you take your elder on weekends if they have room, contact your local Area Agency on Aging to request an assessment of your situation – they offer Caregiver Support to those who care for people 65 or older, or if you are 65 or older and care for someone.
- Hone your communication skills in order to convey your ideas and needs to others politely, clearly and concisely. If you have a question, ask it. Remember that others most likely don’t know just how much you are juggling. Explain why you need help or why you need things done in a certain way. People may be more inclined to help once they realize the magnitude of your responsibilities.
About the author: Lynn Greenblatt is a family caregiver and the founder of CaregivingCafe.com – an online directory of links to information, resources & support that can help caregivers more efficiently manage their tasks.