Stuck in the Middle: Managing the Stress of Caregiving for Children and Aging Parents

Senior and adult children talking

We’ve all heard the term, "sandwich generation" – that segment of the population caught in the middle of taking care of their children while also acting as caregivers for their aging parents. 

According to a 2012 Pew Research report, about half of all U.S. adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child. This group of 40- and 50-somethings makes up the majority of people in the sandwich generation – 71 percent, according to Pew. About 20 percent of sandwich-agers are younger than 40 and about 10 percent are 60 or older.

Surrounded by Stress: The “Sandwich Caregiver’s” Dilemma

Understandably, it can be a time of extreme stress for these “double duty” caregivers.

The article, “Sandwich generation moms feeling the squeeze,” states, “Mothers in the ‘sandwich generation,’ ages 35-54, feel more stress than any other age group as they balance the demanding, delicate acts of caring for growing children and their aging parents, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America survey. And while nearly two-in-five men and women in this age group feel overextended, the survey reveals that more women than men report experiencing extreme stress and say they manage their stress poorly.”

It is no surprise then that so many caregivers in that age group are experiencing stress. Psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, Executive Director for Professional Practice for the American Psychological Association, says, “The worry of your parents’ health and your children’s well-being, as well as the financial concern of putting kids through college and saving for your own retirement, is a lot to handle.”

Susan Irrgang, RN, NHA, MBA, Administrator at Saunders House in Wynnewood, PA, says, “While the stresses of caring for your children and being the primary caregiver for an older loved ones can sometimes seem insurmountable, the good news is there are helpful steps you can take to reduce the stress and restore some balance to your life.

10 Stress Management Tips for “Sandwich Generation” Caregivers

According to health care reporter and columnist, Heidi Godman,“The secret to success is carving out time to take care of yourself when balancing your children and aging parents.”

Her article, “Coping with Stress When You’re in the Sandwich Generation,” and a similar article, “Sandwich generation: 9 tips for managing your unique stress,” offer helpful suggestions to caregivers who find themselves stuck in the middle of a doubly stressful situation. These tips include:

  1. Practice self-care – Remember, you are important, too! If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to properly care for others.Chronic stress increases your risk for developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and depression.Therefore, it’s vital to eat a healthy diet, get sufficient sleep and exercise several times a week. Something as simple as a brisk walk has been shown to have significant physical and emotional benefits.
  2. Take advantage of community resources – Communityprograms and resources can also help support your caregiver role and make your life easierExamples include delivering meals, providing transportation, making regular check-in phone calls and helping around the house. 
  3. Share the burden with others – No one person can do it all! If you have siblings, ask them to be part of the caregiving team. The same goes for children – give them some age-appropriate caregiving responsibilities. Family members often want to help with caregiving, but don’t know quite what to do. Therefore, always be clear and specific when asking for help, e.g.,“Please take mom for her doctor’s appointment next Tuesday.” 

Contact your local government, Office of Aging, or churches and synagogues to find out what services are available in your area. Also, the U.S. Administration on Aging website and the Alzheimer’s Association site can help identify helpful services.

  1. Use Respite Care –  Respite care, which is offered at Saunders House for older loved ones, provides short-term breaks for caregivers that can relieve their stress, renew their energy and restore a sense of balance to their lives. Respite care provides a period of freedom from caregiving duties, while your loved one continues to receive the care they require in a safe, caring and professional environment.
  2. Practice relaxation techniques – Relaxation techniques can help relieve your stress and reduce your susceptibility to caregiver burnout. Techniques include: visualization(mentally picturing a place or situation that is peaceful and calm); meditation(which can be as simple as dedicating 15 minutes a day to letting go of all stressful thoughts); breathing exercises(slowing your breathing and focusing on taking deep breaths); muscle relaxation(tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end).

Prayer can also provide a sense of comfort, serenity andreassurance for many.

  1. Be “selfish” – Continuing the activities you love is essential to your health and well-being, say authorities on caregiver stress.Activities such as reading a book, gardening, listening to music, yoga and tai chi can take the edge off of stress and help to protect you from caregiver burnout.
  2. Socialize –Take time to socialize! Connecting with friends is associated with better mood and health. Schedule a standing lunch with friends and plan outings together. To the extent possible, try to do many of the things you did before becoming a caregiver for your older loved one.
  3. Prioritize – Make a list of the activities that are most important and those that can wait or be delegated to another family member. Not everything has to be done today!
  4. Talk to your employer – If you have a job in addition to your caregiving responsibilities, talk to your boss about having a more flexible schedule or possibly working from home. 
  5. See you doctor – Talk to your doctor about your caregiver role anddiscuss the stresses in your life as well as symptoms that could result in caregiver burnoutWork with your doctor to create a plan for your ownhealth and wellbeing and get recommended immunizations and screenings. You might also want to consider joining a caregiver support group.

Susan adds, “By following the tips of caregiver stress experts, you can reduce your anxiety and make your life easier and more enjoyable. Remember, you’ve earned it!” 

We encourage you to contact us with any questions you might have and to stay current on a variety of senior health and caregiver topics by viewing our latest articles on our website. 

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, “Stuck in the Middle: Managing the Stress of Caregiving for Children and Aging Parents,” we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

Discover Our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services – including short-term rehabilitationtraditional nursing carerestorative carememory carerespite care and specialized care for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our short-term rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at 610.658.5100 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.

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