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  • Are you a member of the Sandwich Generation?

    The phrase was coined to describe those at midlife find themselves with the responsibility for caring for not only a child (or children), but an elderly parent (or parents) as well.  If you’re living your life in the middle of that “sandwich,” you’re not alone.

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    Although there is a potential toll caregiving, it’s important to note up front the many benefits one can experience when caring for loved ones. Studies on caregiving illustrate that a significant number of caregivers report feeling appreciated by those they care for, with many emphasizing that their relationships with those they care for have improved.  In addition, many caregivers note more positive feelings about themselves as a result of being able to help a loved one.

    Unfortunately, there is a cost related to giving of oneself for others.  Research compiled by the National Center on Caregiving paints a picture of today’s sandwich generation as overworked, overextended, overstressed and at risk of developing depression or other emotional or physical illnesses.

    • The majority of caregivers hold down full- or part-time jobs in addition to providing care.
    • Approximately 75% of caregivers are women
    • It’s more common for caregivers than for non-caregivers to experience anxiety, depression and other symptoms of emotional stress.
    • Estimates of the percentage of caregivers reporting symptoms of depression range between 20% and 50%, with a higher incidence of depression reported by those caring for people with dementia. 
    • Stressors including financial concerns, marriage and family conflicts place the caregiver at even greater risk of experiencing depression or other emotional distress.
    • Caregivers who neglect their own needs while caring for others may be jeopardizing their own physical health in the process. Research indicates that caregivers are at increased risk of developing serious conditions including elevated blood pressure and insulin levels, a weakened immune system, and even cardiovascular complications.

    Clearly, the scientific literature confirms what many sandwich generation caregivers know all too well the burden of caregiving is significant.

    Can the pattern of compromising one’s own welfare while caring for others be avoided? The key is to make a new, healthier “sandwich” by devoting the same awareness and vigilance to our own wellbeing as we do to that of the loved ones under our care.

    • Listen to your inner caregiver 

    Chances are if you’re caring for both a parent and a child, you’ve developed some reliable instincts for diagnosing problems and determining courses of action. Are you experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of depression? If so, see a healthcare professional.

    • Seek help for your own symptoms  

    If you feel there is a concern about your own mental health, don’t ignore or minimize your symptoms.  Get help.

    • That goes for your physical symptoms, too  

    As noted above, caregiving can often exact a physical cost as well.  See your healthcare provider to make sure you have a plan to keep your own health on track. Together, you can identify the steps you can take to maintain or improve your physical health – including getting plenty of sleepphysical activity and proper nutrition.

    • Recognize stereotypes and stigma, and fight back   

    You have enough on your plate caring for those who rely on you.  There is nothing wrong with admitting you can’t do it all.  There is nothing wrong with asking for help.  There is nothing wrong with taking action to take care of yourself.  Reaching out to others does not make you weak.  It makes you a smart adult, and a responsible caregiver.

    • Recharge by plugging in to available resources  

    Enlist the help of others to meet your caregiving responsibilities and allow them to help with childcare.   When it comes to caring for your aging loved one, explore resources in your community like respite care or adult day care to build in much-needed breaks for you.

    • Nurture your other significant relationships  

    It’s easy to get so caught up in thinking about and interacting with those you are caring for that you neglect other key relationships.  Those relationships, with your spouse or partner, family members and friends, can become strained when caretaking takes center stage.  Couples or family therapy may be a useful tool and to access resources such as workshops or support groups in your community.

    • Be the one who sets the boundaries  

    It may not always seem so, but you are the keeper of your own calendar.  It will require some assertiveness on your part, but you can and should set limits on the time you devote to others.

    You are to be applauded for taking on the responsibilities of caring for both older and younger family members.  But no one will benefit if your efforts result in burning yourself out.  Make sure you devote the time and resources necessary to care for the caregiver. 

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