Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Modern Dilemma Of Elder Care: The Sandwich Generation

New Jersey Newsroom

More than 25% of American families are involved in elder/parent care at some level. Today, the baby boomers are the "heart" of the sandwich generation.

To understand the significance of the Sandwich Generation, one needs to realize that the Sandwich Generation is THE largest segment of our population.

Who are these sandwich generationers?

Traditional sandwich: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children

Club sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s, sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren. OR those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and aging grandparents. (Term was coined by Carol Abaya)

Open Faced: anyone else involved in elder care. (Term coined by Carol Abaya)

Statistics further demonstrate the importance of understanding the sandwich generation scenario:

$34 billion a year are lost in employee productivity because of elder care responsibilities. More productivity is lost from elder/parent care responsibilities than from child care.

The cost to industry to replace experienced workers who leave their jobs to take care of a sick loved one is more than $7 billion a year.

Of full time employees who are caregivers, today 52% are men and 48% are women. This is a dramatic shift in the caregiver picture because of the high rate of divorce and family being geographically scattered.

77% of caregivers report they work less effectively.

More employees develop health problems from the stress of elder care than from child care.

While the sandwich generation is the largest segment of our population, those over 85 make up the fastest growing segment.

All of these statistics clearly show the undefinable challenges for adult children.

If you are a sandwich generationer, know you are not alone. In order to keep the stress level of sandwich generationers managable, there are a number of important elements that must be understood. These will be addressed in future columns.

A key sandwich generation responsibility is to enable and empower a parent to live as independently as possible as long as possible given true physical and mental capabilities. A sandwich generationer should NEVER take over control of a parent's life and should do as little as necessary to maintain an elder's safe environment and health.

Acknowledge and accept the fact that everyone's emotions will be on a roller coaster forever. As soon as a sandwich generationer thinks things have calmed down, a plunge is inevitable.

No sandwich generationer should do everything alone for an aging parent. This leads down the road to a sandwich generation physical and mental breakdown. Help from other family members and community resources should be identified and used.

Legal, financial and quality of life elements MUST be addressed BEFORE a crisis. If a person (regardless of age) does not protect himself or herself by executing key legal documents, a court can appoint a complete stranger to take over finances, medical decisions, and lifestyle decisions.

Spiritual elements are also important in an elder's everyday life and especially in relation to dying.

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