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Self-Care

How To Cope With the Sandwich
Generation's Multiple Roles


As the Baby Boomer generation enters its 50s, issues associated with the so-called "sandwich generation" are becoming more prevalent.

Stress management and mental wellness are particularly important in helping deal with the demands of caring for children, while at the same time caring for aging parents and, in many cases, working full-time jobs.

Planning ahead and building a network support are key to your career success as a caregiver, experts say.

Because National Council on Aging statistics show that more than 70 percent of caregivers are women, the challenges of caregiving for elderly relatives have a particular impact on women, according to Marla Ahlgrimm, founder and president of Women's Health America Group.

"Women in the caregiving role can become depressed, anxious and exhausted if they don't have adequate support," Ahlgrimm said.

To help balance the needs of parents, children and career, follow some simple steps for success, recommended by Ahlgrimm and several other experts on caregiving:

• First, take care of yourself too. You'll be more effective and less likely to burn out if you stay healthy. That means eat well, stay rested and exercise regularly. Set realistic expectations for yourself — no one is the perfect caregiver, mother, spouse or employee.

• Plan ahead. "Having a family discussion is important," said Thomas Humphrey, executive director of Children of Aging Parents, Levittown, Pa. Knowing your parents' values, goals and financial preferences will allow you to understand their needs as they age.

• Establish a support network and be willing to accept help. Whether you're next door or thousands of miles away, it's important to recognize that you can't do it all. Neighbors, friends and clergy can become part of your support team if you explain your situation and outline your specific needs.

• Enlist your employer's help, if possible. "The best way to bring up caregiving issues with your employer is to be straightforward," advises Dorothy Howe, acting manager of AARP's Health Advocacy Services. "Say, 'This is my situation.' Describe what you're dealing with and let your employer know you could be more productive if you had some flexibility in your schedule."

• Know your local resources. Many agencies and organizations provide information, services and support for the elderly and their caregivers.

• Allow yourself to mourn the changed relationship between you and your parents. "No one can ever be prepared for a parent's severe illness," said Diane Crane, 49, of Lansdale, Pa., who cared for her mother for seven years. "You no longer have the support you had for a lifetime."

• Accept that you will have days when you feel tired, angry, or both. Don't feel guilty; these feelings are legitimate. Talk about them with someone you trust, or in a caregivers' support group.

• Finally, consider your parents' independence and dignity as you help them make decisions. It's important not to "hover" too much, and to continue to allow your parents to do what they can do for themselves as long as they are able. Remember to let them know that your love and concern for them is behind all you do.

Address: Women's Health America Group, P.O. Box 259641, Madison, WI 53725; (800) 222-4767, http://www.womenshealth.com.

Copyright 1999 Health Resources Publishing


© 2000 Health Resources Publishing