Lessen The Squeeze: Caregiver Coping Skills
By Carolyn K. Schultz

According to the Alzheimer’s Association (2000), 5.75 million Americans are in the “Sandwich Generation” of caring for both children and parents, and women represent the majority of caregivers for family members. 

As a certified long-term care specialist, daughter, mother and Sandwich Generation member, I’ve experienced first-hand the impact an event requiring long-term care can have on young families and caregivers. I officially became a member of the Sandwich Generation in 1995 when my daughter was two years-old and my father suffered a debilitating stroke. Together with my family, we encountered some of the most stressful moments, but discovered some of our family’s biggest blessings.

Before my father’s stroke, my parents living a half-a-mile away and a very flexible employer were part of my “perfect” situation. After my father had his stroke, my perfect situation quickly changed. Immediately, my mother took on responsibility for his care, practically living at the hospital and rehab center with him for five months, with no time for herself or anyone else. It was about a year after my father’s death in 2005 that my sisters, brother and I truly realized the physical and emotional toll this event had on my mother and our entire family.

Today I am fortunate that I can bring a few of the lessons I learned during that time to the table when I try to help families understand the importance of protecting their futures. I’ve found the majority of people are challenged to consider how an event requiring long-term care could impact their lives, but all it takes is a real life story to help them realize the potential repercussions to themselves and their families. I recommend a few things you can do to prepare for and live your lives while taking on a caregiver role.

Plan Ahead

Preparing well in advance to meet your own needs and those of your loved ones should undoubtedly be your first step. No matter how difficult it can be, you need to commit yourselves to having a conversation with your parents. I believe it’s the best gift you can give them. Many well-meaning parents and children avoid the conversation because they don’t want to consider the impact. The truth is a conversation can eliminate feelings of guilt, burden and the potential of conflict. Look for opportunities to have a conversation by asking about a friend, relative or acquaintance who is going through a long-term care situation and ask “what if?” questions. Remember to listen carefully and ask questions if the responses are not clear. Don’t try to tackle the issue in one conversation. Instead make a plan to think about the options and set a goal for continuing to share information. If your parents haven’t considered it, find out if they would be interested in purchasing long-term care insurance.

Next, have a conversation with your spouse. Developing a plan is best done when you’re healthy and you can objectively review your options. Also, many people don’t realize that it’s easier to be approved for long-term care insurance and pay for it when you’re earning an income and healthy.

Know Your Resources

Well-intentioned families are taking the brunt of the care demands upon themselves – or at least delegating it to one member. Take a look around your workplace and you’ll see many colleagues are caring for elderly relatives, either because they lack the financial resources or are not aware of the many alternative care-giving options. Although the Family Medical Leave Act guarantees most U.S. workers up to 12 weeks time off a year, this time is unpaid. To help employees stay productive and balance the needs of family with work, many are offering referral services to inform workers about where they can find caregivers, legal advice and extended leaves of absence.

If you aren’t up to speed on your employee benefits package, schedule a quick update session to see if new options are being considered. Many employers are now offering long-term care insurance to employees and their immediate family members. In some cases, this arrangement allows people to obtain a discount on the premium. Ask some questions.  Who knows, maybe you’ll find a new way to save money and make the most of the programs currently available to you.

Sometimes The Small Things Make A Big Difference

Looking back, I am still amazed at the countless number of cards, visitors and kind gestures of friendship bestowed upon my family by our neighbors, friends and members of our church. You hear all the time that it’s better to make a real offer to do something specific rather than say “If there’s anything I can do to help just call.” Make small requests of those who offer help to ease your burden. What may seem like a small effort to one person could be a tremendous relief to another. I remember my dad’s longtime barber just showing up at the hospital during the first three weeks and cutting my dad’s hair and shaving his neck, which he continued to do on a regular basis thereafter.  He just took it upon himself to make sure it got done, and his gesture made my dad feel good. 

Stay Healthy

If you’re not taking care of yourself, how can you take care of others? For me this is a lifelong goal and something I’m always trying to improve. The easiest excuse for grabbing fast food, skipping the usual morning walk or letting yourself get rundown can be in the guise of saving time, but it could also be at the expense of your health. Start small and set goals. Stash some healthy snacks in the refrigerator at work and home. Try to limit your fast food “dashboard dining.” And take time for you, to read, to relax, to pamper yourself. Far from being selfish, these times are crucial for your wellbeing.

Learn to Set Limits

Some of the same skills and strategies you use at work such as planning, organizing, communicating, setting limits and delegating can be used effectively on the home-front for achieving a satisfying, fulfilling and well-balanced life both personally and professionally.

Although those of us sandwiched between care for our children and care for our parents cannot change this fact, we can do a better job of preparing for the job of caring for our parents before the need arises. 


 

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