We live in an amazing time. Modern healthcare advances have increased the average life expectancy in the United States from 47 years in 1900 to the mid-seventies today. According to the Census Bureau projections, there will be approximately 70 million Americans age 65 and older by the year 2030. Nine million of those will be from our fastest growing population segment – 85 years and older.
That’s amazing news! It means that the people we love get to stay with us a little longer. It means that young children might actually know their grandparents and even great-grandparents. It means another year with the patriarch of the family at Thanksgiving or one more sweet conversation with your Grammy on her birthday.
But those extra memories come with some cost. As our parents and grandparents live longer, the chance of chronic health problems increases and the weight of long-term care becomes a reality for the culture at large. Most specifically, since most older Americans have their care needs met by a family member, the realities of caregiving often fall to children who are in their forties and early fifties.
This new generation of caregivers has been dubbed the “sandwich generation.” Why? Because they are often caught between the responsibilities of caring for both older and younger generations. Many of them are in the prime of their careers and have the responsibilities of raising children in their own homes at the same time. Meanwhile, they also find their schedules squeezed as they spend many hours each week tending to the needs of frail, aging relatives.
Because of this tension, the sandwich generation often finds themselves overextended, stressed-out, emotionally weary, financially squeezed, and even guilt-plagued. These feelings can be very difficult to sort through. They can be exacerbated by the fact that caregivers often feel alone in their endeavor. While resources abound for parenting and raising a young family, not as many people are writing or talking about caring for their own parents. Yet, the “it takes a village” mentality applies to more situations than just raising young children!
To that end, we’re passing on a few suggestions from the Aging Care website to help those of you who are caregivers find the support and encouragement you need:
- Your state government’s website should have a version of the National Family Caregiver Support Program, where you can contact people who have been in your shoes. Go to its website, type "aging" in the search box, and you should find some state resources.
- Talk with other caregivers through support groups, whether online or in-person. Online sites are especially helpful because most caregivers are pressed for time and often have difficulty attending an in-person group meeting.
- Check with the Alzheimer's Association. They offer a broad range of support and can answer many of your questions.
- Local hospitals, religious organizations and even nursing homes will likely have lists of in-person support groups you can attend.
The bottom line: If you are a caregiver, you need to seek support from other caregivers. It’s important that you talk to people who have been in the trenches. Ask them what they did that worked, what they would do differently, and what they advise. With the help of a support community, the caregiver is better resourced and equipped for the road ahead.