The Sandwich Generation: Aging parents

Members of the Sandwich Generation often have to shoulder a lot of responsibility. Not only do they have to look after their own children, but they also have to care for their aging parents, many of whom have diminishing capabilities. This can be especially challenging and may produce feelings of frustration and anger. In order to prevent friction, it's important to remember a few tips along the way.

Communicate

Openly communicate throughout the entire transitional process of bringing parents into your home. Begin by speaking with them as early as possible about their possible loss of independence. Talk to them about their feelings regarding their care so that you can better gauge how difficult this transition will be for them.

If you are beyond this stage and are already caring for them, call a family meeting that includes everyone. While members of the Sandwich Generation often try to shoulder all the responsibility themselves, everyone involved should share in decisions. However, remember that the most important people at that meeting are your parents. Ask what they think is best for themselves. Otherwise, having their children decide their future for them may feel humiliating.

Since your relationship with your folks started when you were the dependent, it can be very painful for them to adjust now that the roles are reversed. As you take care of them, focus on the strengths your parents still possess instead of their limitations. Encourage them to do all they can for themselves. It can also help to let them know that they aren't an imposition. Explain that you enjoy their company and friendship and communicate to them that helping out is a pleasure rather than a duty.

Stay Honest

Always be upfront and honest with your parents as you begin to look after them. Make sure any changes that are made to their lifestyle are for their good. Also remember not to make any assumptions about their feelings or transfer your feelings onto them. Seeking to placate a parent rather than address their real concerns can be viewed as condescending and can cause problems in the future.

Perhaps most importantly, never make a promise you can't keep. For instance, promising you will not make them go to an assisted living facility might have to be broken should their health deteriorate.

Psychological Effects of Dependency

Many seniors are devastated when they lose their driving privileges. As their caregiver, you should examine all other available options with them when this happens. For instance, if they don't like you driving them about, they may feel better about hiring a driver or having a neighbor drive them around instead.

Beyond driving, studies have shown that many seniors also fear the loss of their ability to "stay put," or maintain independent living, even more than they do death. Since our society stresses independence and self-sufficiency, it is important to remember that, when it is lost, seniors may feel useless and fall into depression.

To prevent this, make sure that your parents are treated like a valuable family member when they come to live with you, instead of as just a house guest. Rather than forcing them to serve as a de facto babysitter, give them space and let them have a separate private life. It can go a long way toward restoring some of the self-sufficiency they may have lost.

Members of the Sandwich Generation often face hard decisions as their parents grow old. However, you can make the transition from child to caregiver much easier by remembering that it is also difficult for your parents. Treat them with the respect, honesty, understanding, and affection that they deserve.


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