Family caregivers have many important roles and responsibilities within their families and communities. They may be responsible for offering support to their senior loved ones through the organization of medical services, administration of medications, and activities of daily living. They might even be asked to help with financial, legal, or emotional matters.
As one generation ages and another struggles to reach financial autonomy, the obligations and responsibilities of family caregivers are growing. Today, there are many who find themselves caring for beloved members of both generations.
The Sandwich Generation
Coined in the 1980s by social worker Dorothy Miller, the term “sandwich generation” originally implied women in their 30s and 40s who were “sandwiched” between their children, spouses, employers, and aging parents. According to the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends, the term now refers to a generation of middle-aged people primarily in their 40s and 50s who are caring for their aging parents while also supporting their children.
The sandwich generation trend is attributable to the combination of longer lifespans and the (subsequently) growing number of near-retirees whose aging parents require costly care. Sandwiched caregivers may also have children who are still in college or who require financial or physical support. The term can apply to those caring for aging parents as well as grandchildren.
Journalist Carol Abaya, a nationally renowned expert on the sandwich generation, has categorized different scenarios within the sandwich generation. Where the traditional sandwich generation caregiver supports a senior parent and children, the club sandwich generation caregiver helps aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren. This term also applies to caregivers in their 30s and 40s who are raising juvenile children while caring for aging parents and grandparents. Abaya’s “open-faced sandwich” categorizes any other family caregivers of older adults.
Sandwich Generation Statistics
The characteristic American sandwich generation caregiver is a working 40- to 59-year-old married woman who cares for her family as well as a senior parent — though it’s important to recognize the ever-increasing sector of male caregivers.
The Pew Research Center found that about half of Americans aged 40 to 60 have a parent over 65 and are also rearing a juvenile child or financially supporting an adult child. About 1 in 7 Americans (15 percent) in that age range are financially supporting both a child and an aging parent. Additionally, SeniorAdvisor.com reports that between 7 and 10 million adults provide long-distance support to their aging parents.
Tips for a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Maintaining a positive work-life balance when you are a part of the sandwich generation can be challenging at times, but it’s not impossible. Here are a few tips to help you handle all of your caregiving responsibilities while also meeting your personal needs:
- Ask for help. If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to family and friends.
- Seek professional assistance. Connect with a local social worker, your area’s Agency on Aging, or the US Health and Human Services websites to get help developing strategies for caring for senior parents and children simultaneously.
- Find a support group. Support groups are designed to provide help for caregivers in the forms of knowledge and support from others who are in a situation similar to yours.
- Socialize. Make an effort each week to socialize and connect with family and friends.
- Stay healthy. Find the time to be physically active, get a good night’s sleep, and eat a healthy diet. Make sure to see your doctor regularly, too.
Taking the time to care for yourself and seeking out help will in turn help you provide the best care possible for your loved ones.