While plenty of us expect we will need to care for the older adults in our lives at some point as they age, sometimes we find ourselves caring for multiple people in our lives. A spouse, sibling, or child may fall ill or undergo a complex surgery, or we might care for loved ones with special needs. When multiple people in our lives fall under our care, we can feel stuck in the middle, trying to take care of our loved ones and not getting enough time to take care of ourselves.
People who are caregivers for more than one person in their life are often called double caregivers or are considered part of the Sandwich Generation, and they face unique caregiving challenges.
What is the Sandwich Generation?
Originally, the “Sandwich Generation” referred to adults simultaneously caring for their aging parents as well as raising children or supporting adult children. They are “sandwiched” between loved ones who need their care. Caring for children and aging parents isn’t the only way to be sandwiched, however. Individuals caring for multiple older generations, such as a parent and a grandparent, or those who are caring for their spouse or sibling in addition to a senior loved one or child, are considered part of the Sandwich Generation, too.
The Sandwich Generation is different from the generations we typically hear about in the news, which we belong to based on our birth year. The Sandwich Generation is closer to a life stage, and something many of us will face in our lifetimes, especially as the aging population continues to grow.
Care Needs Provided by the Sandwich Generation
Ultimately, individuals in the Sandwich Generation are providing care and support for multiple people in their lives. This care can come in many forms, including helping loved ones clean up around the house, driving them to appointments or to run errands, making sure medications are taken and refilled accordingly, or helping handle finances.
Some care may be temporary, such as helping a loved one while they recover from surgery, while other forms are progressive, like caring for an aging parent with a condition that worsens over time, such as dementia. Some care may be more steady, like caring for a spouse or child with a chronic disease or disability.
Challenges of the Sandwich Generation
Family caregivers, whether they care for one person or many, often get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of tasks to complete for the people they care for and what they need to accomplish in their careers and day-to-day life.
Double caregivers might feel like everyone needs their help, but there are few who can help in return. Additionally, providing care for multiple people can leave a caregiver with even less time to care for themself, putting them at risk of falling ill, getting hurt, or ultimately becoming burnt out.
Caregivers can often feel like they have to push through pain or illness and push aside their own needs because others rely on them.
Overcoming Challenges of Double Caregiving
Caring for multiple people, often with different needs, is difficult to manage. This can result in caregivers pushing aside their own needs to get things done for their loved ones. Here are a few strategies for Sandwich Generation caregivers to find a balance:
Base Care on Need Over Fairness
When you’re caring for multiple people, dividing your time by fairness can easily grow exhausting. Setting a standard of what is fair to each of the people you care for as well as your own wellbeing can quickly become impossible.
Care needs are likely to fluctuate, and one person (including yourself) may require more care at some times than others. Basing care on need or urgency instead of fairness helps manage your time and energy as well as make sure that everything is taken care of.
Delegate Between Family Members and Care Professionals
Caring for multiple people is overwhelming, and care needs can often exceed what one person can handle. In addition to help from family members, caregivers have resources like care managers and in-home care professionals.
For seniors, caregivers also have options like senior adult day care and respite care at assisted living communities. In addition to care services, these communities can also provide your loved ones with important exercise and social opportunities.
Identify Resistance to Accepting Help
Caregivers know they need help but can sometimes be reluctant to accept it. They may feel solely responsible for the care of their loved ones, especially when they’re caring for their spouse or child. One person providing all the needed care for multiple people simply isn’t possible, and getting help from friends, neighbors, family, and care professionals helps you provide better care for your loved ones in the end.
There are plenty of ways to find support in your local community and online. Caregiving is taxing both physically and emotionally, and it’s important to have a support network who understands. Caregivers Connect on Facebook is an online community for caregivers to find support, and the Community Resource Finder from AARP and the Alzheimer’s Association can help find local resources in your area for caregiving support. This article from AARP also contains an extensive list of caregiver resources for different situations, like spousal caregiving and cancer caregiver support groups.
Family caregivers are providing invaluable care for their loved ones, but they shouldn’t feel like they need to do it all, especially for double caregivers. There are plenty of options for support in online and local communities to make sure you and your loved ones have the right care.