Magazine article USA TODAY

Taking a Bite out of the Sandwich Generation

Magazine article USA TODAY

Taking a Bite out of the Sandwich Generation

Article excerpt

The challenges of caring for aging parents can be taxing for the in-between generation.

IT IS one of the most difficult problems any of us will ever face. Mom and Dad are getting on in years, and they aren't quite as sharp as they once were. Mom broke her hip last year and has a hard time with the stairs. Dad probably shouldn't be driving anymore. Or maybe Dad has passed away and Mom has started to let her once-immaculate house go a bit. You would love to help out more, but you live 2,000 miles away and you've got about all you can handle taking care of your own kids.

Situations like this are becoming increasingly common. In fact, there is even a name for people being squeezed between the demands of their children and the responsibility they feel to assist their aging parents--the Sandwich Generation.

For as long as there have been families, people have had to find ways to care for aging relatives. In days gone by, multi-generational families often lived in the same town, and sometimes even in the same house. Everyone could pitch in to help their grandparents. It was almost expected that, after a long life, they would be taken care of by their children and grandchildren.

Things are different now. In today's mobile society, it is rarer than it used to be for children to remain in the town where they grew up. The extended family living under one roof has all but died out, replaced by arrangements in which members may be scattered all across the country, with only long-distance phone calls, letters, and the occasional visit to tie them together.

Not only are families more dispersed than they once were, couples are waiting longer to have children. When it was more typical for people to have kids in their early to mid 20s, their own parents were in their 50s and 60s-ages when most are still able to be self-sufficient. Now, many couples are waiting until their 30s or early 40s to have children. That means that when this generation's children are teenagers, their grandparents may be well into their 70s or 80s--an age when they need more help themselves.

Aging parents are less likely to ask for help these days, fearful of becoming a burden to their children. Any expectation of support from one's offspring has been replaced by a fierce independence among today's seniors. They see how hard their children must work to support their own families, and they feel they should be able to look after themselves. Sometimes, though, they need assistance. What can a "sandwiched" child do?

Although they may be miles away, it is possible to help aging parents by keeping in touch and building a network of support. The following seven tips are some of the ways adult children can provide assistance for their aging parents without having to sacrifice their own lives.

Keep in regular contact. Write or call your parents at least once a week at a regularly scheduled time. Letters needn't be lengthy; enclose newspaper clippings, cartoons, and/or photos with shorter notes. Consider buying a speaker phone if there is more than one person in either household. If your parents have experienced a hearing loss, make sure they own a high-quality amplified phone to improve communication. Depending on your budget and their interests, consider buying them a cell phone, fax machine, or computer with e-mail capabilities.

Assign family roles. If you have siblings, share responsibility for helping your parents by assigning responsibilities for legal, financial, medical, and other issues. You don't have to be a lawyer, accountant, or doctor to help with basics.

Help them stay socially connected. Arrange for a friend, neighbor, or family member to visit your parents as often as possible, but at least once a week. If you have trouble finding someone dependable, contact a community church or seniors' advocacy group for recommendations.

Provide entertainment opportunities. …

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