Acting as a caregiver of another person at any age is both rewarding and challenging. Each day you have the opportunity to change another person’s life. You ensure that the person you are providing care to in your family eats, is clean, has the medicine he or she needs, and is well cared for.

Most of us know, even if we are not caregivers ourselves, how demanding it can be. This is perhaps made even more complicated when the caregiver is a “Sandwich Generation” caregiver. This is a caregiver who is caring for the needs of multiple age groups. It is often described as caring for a minor who is still in the household while taking on the caregiving responsibilities of an aging parent or other elderly family member.

What we often do not talk about, however, is how easy it is for the caregiver to lose his or her independence.

Maintaining independence while caring for the physical, emotional, or health-related needs of another person can be almost impossible at times. We hear from our family, friends, and clients, each day that they have lost their way when it comes to assessing what they need on top of what a loved one needs. When we throw a job into the mix, which research tells us most caregivers also try to maintain, it is little wonder that there is no time for this individual to care for him or herself.

Unfortunately, when the caregiver fails to maintain independence it may only be a matter of time before not only their person but the caregiving of another person suffers. Caregivers who are overworked, under-rested, and underappreciated, run a very high risk of burning out.  

Assuming a caregiver role also drastically changes the relationship the caregiver has with the family member for whom they are caring.  For example, a parent becomes a patient and likewise the adult child is no longer a child but a caregiver. This drastically changes the relationship between parent and child. Despite wanting to be both child and caregiver, it becomes more and more difficult if not impossible emotionally.  

What can we do to help the Sandwich Generation caregiver maintain independence? Let us share 5 tips we share with our family, friends and clients.

1. Only work a six day work week. 

While it may seem like an unusual request, most caregivers work a seven day work week. Think of yourself if you have small children. How many days do you go without making breakfast for all the mouths in your household? Caregiving just expands on these duties and makes you responsible for not just yourself and your children but an aging parent. Ask for help on the seventh day of the week, even if it’s a day in the middle of the week. You need one day to reset and regain perspective.

2. Spend an hour each day on your needs. 

In may not seem like a lot of time to any of us but did you know many caregivers do not even take more than a three minute shower in the sink in order to make sure that their loved ones are never unattended? Even a new mom or dad who is trying to balance the baby’s needs alone still get a chance to take a shower. There is no time for make-up, hair care, bathing, or even reading a book, when you are caring for multiple ages. Find a way, even if it is to hire a nanny or babysitter for just one hour, to get yourself time for you each day. Although it may seem unnecessary, it is critical to help you maintain this role for the long term.

3. Do not neglect exercise.

For caregivers, self-care is one of the first things to go out the window and this includes exercise. You need to take care of your body, so it is able to take care of others. While this may seem like a mantra you have heard before, it is no less important. If there is not another person who can watch your loved ones for an hour or so each day, look at the gyms around. Do they offer childcare? Adult daycare? Is there a safe place where an aging parent could observe you exercising and your child could be in the care of a sitter? There are solutions out there. You just need to start looking.

4. Ask for help from other people and seek other resources. 

Most of us do not have extra money in our budget to pay for caregiving help. Research tells us that is why close family caregivers start in the first place. Ask young adults in your home or your spouse or siblings if they can help you with these responsibilities. Often, especially with caregivers who are very good at their job, family members do not offer help because they do not think it will be appreciated or needed.  

In addition, there might be other financial resources such as Medi-Cal or VA Benefits that are available to assist with the cost of care, including in-home care (if the person being cared for is a veteran, a current spouse of a veteran, or a surviving spouse of a veteran). Do no assume that these are out of reach. Meet with an elder law attorney to learn more about available strategies to tap into these possible resources as an income stream.

5. Know when the care cannot be provided by you.

Most caregivers especially those with the care of another person for extended periods of time have tunnel vision when it comes to the increasing needs of the person they are providing care to. We frequently see this when it comes to a child caring for an aging parent. While the parents long-term needs have extended beyond what the child can provide, he or she can have a hard time giving up this responsibility and allow an experienced professional to step in. When we suspect this is the case, know it is time to talk to an elder law attorney to discuss potential long-term care options.

Whether you are a caregiver who needs to use these tips for your own sanity or you love a caregiver and are worried about him or her, we want you to take these tips to heart. While they are not an exhaustive list of all the things you could do to help a caregiver, they can point you in the right direction.

At the heart of each of these tips is finding ways, even small ways, to help the Sandwich Generation caregiver maintain independence. Practice compassion, practice empathy, practice tolerance… even the smallest steps can go quite far in helping a stressed-out caregiver.

Do You Feel “Sandwiched” Between the Challenges of Caring for Aging Parents and Your Own Family? Click here to download our resource guide!

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Estate Planning AttorneyKevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is all about family and has a passion for educating his community about trust and estate planning, veterans issues, and how to protect what matters most.

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