You have heard of the sandwich generation – people caring for aging parents and growing children, and you have heard of the club sandwich, but have you ever heard of the club sandwich generation? This phenomenon is made up of people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s who are caring for aging parents, adult children and grandchildren. Many may be caring for ailing spouses, brothers or sisters. Americans are living longer and as a result, the continuum of caregiving is lengthening too.
Here are some examples of club sandwich generation caregiving:
- A grandmother caring for grandchildren while the parents work.
- Grandparents providing after-school care for grandchildren while caring for sick husbands or wives.
- A woman taking care of her elderly mother while also caring for her grandchildren after school while her husband has Alzheimer’s disease.
- Women caring for a grown child who has fallen ill or has a developmental disability, while also caring for an aging parent and spouse or sibling.
Although longevity has multiplied the layers of the “sandwich generation” into the “club sandwich generation,” the issues are the same. A book by Suzanne Kingsmill and Benjamin Schlesinger called “The Family Squeeze” described the challenges inherent in these multi-generational caregiving situations.
“Thanks to modern technology, more and more people are living longer and longer. At the same time, fewer children are being born who might care for the elderly. Fertility rates have been dropping steadily and more women are having children later in life which increases the likelihood that they will be caught in the sandwich. At the same time, adult children are returning home.” Add in full-time work and aging parents and you have a club sandwich of caregiving stress.
Women are on the front lines of caregiving
A report by AARP and the National Caregiving Alliance shows that 43.5 million Americans provide unpaid care to a loved one and 60 percent of them are women. Eighty-five percent of caregivers provide care for a relative and 49 percent care for a parent or a parent-in-law. One in ten caregivers provide care for a spouse. The AARP Public Policy Institute found that the average caregiver “… is a 49- year-old woman who works outside the home and spends nearly 20 hours per week—the equivalent of another part-time job—providing unpaid care to her mother for nearly five years.”
This responsibility can be costly for women, impacting them physically, emotionally and financially. An article in the Journal of Gerontology reported “A vicious cycle of parental caregiving and financial well-being for women”. The study said that “…women are likely to experience negative economic outcomes as a consequence of caring for elderly parents, and because of a lack of financial resources for parental care, their only option is to assume the caregiving responsibility, increasing financial risks.”
What can be done to help women caregivers in the club sandwich generation? The most effective strategy is self-care, although it frequently falls to the bottom of the list. Caring for oneself can protect health and well-being and avoid the illnesses that can develop from stress and fatigue. Practicing good nutrition, even on busy days, and getting a good night’s sleep are priorities. It can be impossible to take a day off or schedule a spa day, but eating and sleeping well are critical to maintaining the strength and health needed to remain a caregiver.
A geriatric care manager can help as well. These highly trained professionals can help with health care, housing, financial and legal issues, referrals, care plans, transitions of care and more. They can access health care and community resources to lighten the caregiver’s load and can mediate family disputes.
The stress and pressure of caregiving is perhaps most acute for the club sandwich generation. Relying on geriatric care managers for support can organize care and relieve stress for caregivers in the middle of the club generation sandwich.
Keep reading: Three ways geriatric care managers support caregivers ≫