Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Sandwich Generation - A First-hand Perspective

Caught in the Middle

The Sandwich Generation  is a growing situation.  It describes a generation of people who find themselves caring for elderly parents or relatives while still raising their own children.  In a difficult and uncertain economy supporting one's own children is challenging enough.  Adding the care and expense of an elderly parent or parents can be both heartbreaking and financially challenging.  It's often easy to lose ourselves in the myriad of people that surround us.

Aging Parents - A Growing Dilemma
The  Pew Research Center reports:
Elderly Parents Care
Between 7 and 10 million adults care for an aging parent long distance.
  • 1 in 8 Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 are adult children caring for an aging parent and raising own children.  
  • Between 7 and 10 million adults care for a parent long distance.  
According to the U.S. Census Bureau the number of Americans 65 and older will double by the year 2030, to over 70 million.

Carol Abaya, nationally recognized as an expert in eldercare, breaks down the sandwich generation into three categories:
  1. Those who care for their own children and care or help with their aging parents as well.
  2. Those in "their 50's and 60's caring for elderly parents, their grown children and their grandchildren. Adults in their 30's and 40's who care for their own small children, elderly parents and grandparents."
  3. Any one else involved in elder care.
Living with Elderly Parents

It is often unexpected and can turn your life upside down.

My story:  After a frantic search for my keys, tripping over my cats to the front door, and already late for work, my phone rings.  It is my mom's car dealership. "I hope I'm not overstepping anything here, but we just took your mom home."  My heart is in my throat thinking something terrible has happened.  Well, yes and no. Mom was not hurt or in an accident.  However, she took her car over because she thought she had gotten a call that it was due for maintenance.  The dealership had not called.  But when she arrived, the agent noticed that she seemed confused and could not get her car to shut off.  Worried that she should not be on the road, they told her they would look the car over for her and change the oil and shuttle her home.  Then they called me.  My mother never drove again after that.  After a few weeks and an escalating issue with her breathing, she was hospitalized for pneumonia.  During that time, a CAT scan revealed that she had suffered several mini-strokes.  She was developing Dementia.  I suddenly found myself sandwiched between my own home in the city, hers in the suburbs, a two-hour drive in traffic, and a job that did not allow employees to call out sick. 

I quickly realized my mom would not be able to live on her own, which meant drastic changes to life as I knew it:
  • I had to rent my house, quit my job, and move in with her. 
  • I also realized that I was going to need a lucrative income without leaving my home. The challenge was to find other, less conventional ways of earning a living from direct sales to consulting and writing. 
  • I also need flexibility for doctor's appointments, my mom's ups and downs and my need to include her in my travels outside the home because she cannot be left alone. 
Elder Care - A Family Affair

Sandwich Generation
Elder care is challenging, but the rewards are great for the family.
The responsibility of caring for an aging parent or spouse did not single me out.  Both my aunt and my cousin joined the sandwich generation together.   On Thanksgiving night about six years ago, my cousin showed up at my house with suitcases in hand and her young son. Normally she showed up with a side dish, this year she brought a family!  My aunt found herself joining the ranks of the Sandwich Generation when she had to care for her disabled husband, her daughter and grandson. And her daughter raises her young child while sharing in the care of an elderly parent.

Both women work full time jobs and struggle with the demands of their careers.  Sharing in the daily care of my uncle, they are challenged with navigating the ever-changing Medicare system and his worsening condition.  Neither of them thought they would be in this situation.

Common Eldercare Situations
  • Recently, my uncle chose to stay late at elder care, without notifying my cousin who needs to take her son to team practice.  Because she had to wait for her father's bus to help him into the house, her son was late. Dementia has diminished his ability to use a house key to let himself in.
  • I have experienced this with my mother. She knows how to lock a door, and has often locked me out! But unlocking the door is a challenge.  My mother sometimes stands at the window, smiling at me, but doesn't understand that I need her to let me in.  In this situation, it's really important to remember your key at all times!
My cousin and I laugh at the numerous times we've been locked out and our parents don't answer the door.

Elderly Parent's Care
My one friend who is dealing with elderly parents has the additional pressure of caring for her aging parents from a distance.  We often miss the simple things like children or grandchildren's events due to travel, appointments, and the unpredictability of dealing with an elderly parent.  Despite the sacrifices, we consider it a privilege and agree that there is nothing else we'd rather be doing than caring for elderly parents.

As the population ages, and more adult children dealing with aging parents join the sandwich generation, the need for resources that can provide emotional support, financial, medical, and other social services will also grow.  Tomorrow's article, The Sandwich Generation - Tips for Living with Elderly Parents will provide links for resources that can help us build healthy sandwiches, filled with ingredients that aid us to meet the challenges of the most important job we'll ever do.

Caroline Carr
Full Time Caregiver and Contributing Writer


  1. Being a Sandwich Generationer i.e an elder/parent caregiver is a new role on the stage of life for which no one can ever rehearse. Becoming a parent to an aging parent presents extraordinary challenges.

  2. Keep the sandwich generation trend in mind when you’re projecting what kind of income you’ll need in retirement. Be sure to consider the possibility that you'll end up in the sandwich generation--one or more of your kids may need to come back home for awhile, raising your monthly costs or maybe delaying your plan to move to a smaller home. And if you have one or more parents still living, count on joining the sandwich generation as your parents may also need your financial help.

  3. Nice to read your blog on elder care. It is always special to live with our elders. Even though the younger generation find it difficult to cop up with elders, they can understand the value only if they turn. Still there are a lot of opportunities in front of them in the form of nursing health care centers.