This is a guest post submitted by Lauren Hill, a contributing author for Lift Caregiving.
A growing number of retirement age adults are finding that the peaceful retirement which they had been saving and hoping for is at risk. There are some threats which you may already have planned for: a downturn in the economy or failing health could present difficulties when it comes to retirement. However, a new threat to enjoying your retirement years could affect you on two fronts. The term “sandwich generation” is one which more and more baby boomers are getting to know all too well.
Adding Parents to the Mix
The term refers to adults who are caring for their parents and their children. Many of the sandwich generation are bringing their parents into their homes and others are working to provide the necessary financing in order to support their parents in a long-term care facility. At the same time, the sandwich generation may be supporting their college-aged children or even opening their homes to adult children who have recently found themselves out of work.
Protecting Your Physical and Emotional Health
While you may have gladly opened your arms and homes to your elderly parents, the weight of caring for both children and parents can have a tremendous impact on your stress level. If you are bearing the burden of caring for your parents and your children, it may be some consolation to you to know that you are not alone. Just knowing that there are others in the same position as you isn’t enough to ease your burdens, however. You need to take steps to protect yourself from burning out.
Burn out may not even be your greatest risk. On-going research is finding that caregivers in the sandwich generation are much more likely to develop chronic illness than the general population. What can you do to protect your health in this situation?
1. Make time for yourself.
First of all, you need to be sure that you are getting enough rest. Without a good 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, you will eventually find that the level of care which you are providing is slipping. Eventually, your health will suffer as well. If you can’t get enough sleep at night, then take to sleep when your parent is napping.
A good night’s sleep isn’t enough on its own. Try to arrange for some time now and then when you are able to go shopping or have lunch with a friend. Even a ten-minute soak in the tub can improve your ability to resist becoming sick.
2. Keep the lines of communication open.
Conflicts are sure to develop from time to time. However, you can reduce the number of conflicts by talking openly with the different parties involved. Many members of the sandwich generation are finding that their marriages are suffering. One way to protect your marriage is to talk often with your spouse about goals, struggles, and each other.
It will also be important for you to communicate regularly with any siblings involved in the long-term care of your parents. You must come to the realization that you cannot do this on your own. Your siblings must come to this realization as well. The more that you are able to talk through this situation with your family, the better able each of you will be to share the burden.
3. Look for and accept help.
You might find that your parent enjoys time with some of your friends or siblings. If someone offers you a meal, then accept it. As your friends realize that you are providing care, they may naturally want to reach out with supportive gestures. You, and your parents, will be better off when you are able to accept that support.
Enlist help from your kids. Involving your family, when appropriate, can ease your burden and help everyone to realize some of the benefits of having your parents around.
It is also okay for you to tell people “no” from time to time. Understand your limits and don’t feel bad about letting people know that you are caring for your parent and sometimes other activities will have to be put to the side.
4. Locate resources.
In a similar vein, you should look for supportive resources in your community. You may be able to find a support group. You might also have access to a respite program or an in-home caregiver from time to time. There may even be benefits available to you through your workplace. When you accompany your parent to doctors’ visits, you may want to ask the doctor about resources which are available in the community. You may also benefit from resources available to you through the Internet: http://www.caregivers.com/caregiver-wellness/sandwich-generation-month/.
5. Visit with professionals.
You will naturally want to have relevant discussions with your parent’s doctor, but there are other professionals for you to get to know.
- Ask the pharmacist about medications that your parent is taking.
- Talk with a financial planner in order to protect yourself and your future financially.
- Consider talking with a therapist about the stress which you are experiencing.
The more information you are able to gather, the better prepared you will be to prevent trouble.
6. Eat a balanced and nutritious diet.
Protecting your physical health is much easier when you are feeding your body the nutrients it needs to function. Take time to sit down to three well-balanced meals a day. Pack your meals full of protein, vegetables, and nutrients to give you the energy that you need throughout the day.
7. Squeeze in some time for exercise.
Even just ten minutes of exercise a day can increase your endorphins and improve your mood. What can you do in just a few minutes?
- Take a walk
- Play with your dog
- Dance to a song on the radio
- Practice some tai chi or yoga
- Park at the back of the parking lot
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Over time, you’ll notice that your physical and emotional health will benefit from the exercise which you have been able to build into your day.
8. Allow room for mistakes.
The realization that you are only human and that you are starting out on a new situation can help you at the end of each day to accept your own best efforts. There will be times when you and your parent will be at odds. You might make mistakes along the way. Dwelling on your mistakes won’t make the situation any better. Forgive yourself and move on.
Lauren Hill is a contributing author for Lift Caregiving, a company offering support to caregivers in the Richmond, VA area.
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