Caught in the middle: The sandwich generation comes to grips with dual roles as parents and caregivers

Jeannie and Bob Turner spend their days balancing sports practices and pharmacy visits, rides to school and trips to the doctor, report cards and insurance forms.

Posted 10/27/06

The couple juggles because they're not just parents; they're also full-time caregivers to Bob's 92-year-old mom, Bernice. "It's a difficult time of …

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Caught in the middle: The sandwich generation comes to grips with dual roles as parents and caregivers

Jeannie and Bob Turner spend their days balancing sports practices and pharmacy visits, rides to school and trips to the doctor, report cards and insurance forms.

Posted

The couple juggles because they're not just parents; they're also full-time caregivers to Bob's 92-year-old mom, Bernice.

"It's a difficult time of life for us," Jeannie said. "It's hard to raise children as well as an older person."

By By:Corey Dahl

Jeannie and Bob Turner spend their days balancing sports practices and pharmacy visits, rides to school and trips to the doctor, report cards and insurance forms.

The couple juggles because they're not just parents; they're also full-time caregivers to Bob's 92-year-old mom, Bernice.

"It's a difficult time of life for us," Jeannie said. "It's hard to raise children as well as an older person."

The Highlands Ranch-based Turners are part of the "Sandwich Generation," adult children who are taking care of their parents while raising their own kids. And they're not alone.

According to an Area Agency on Aging study, 44 percent of Americans between the ages of 45 and 55 have aging parents or in-laws as well as children younger than 21. Experts predict that number will continue to grow as more baby boomers enter their golden years.

The trend is leaving some families strapped both emotionally and financially, but there are steps people can take to make living in the sandwich generation easier.

"What's key is for families to

know that they don't have to do it by themselves," said Rhonda Latshaw, executive director of adult day- and home-care services at Centennial's Christian Living Communities. "There's a lot of help out there."

"I feel guilty"

When Jeannie Turner was younger, she'd relax in the evening with a beer. Now, if she's lucky, she tries to squeeze in a nap.

Jeannie spends her days managing two households, washing, cooking and cleaning for herself as well as Bernice, who lives in Littleton's Alyson Court Elderly Apartments.

She shuttles Bernice, who had shoulder surgery last spring, and her 13-year-old son George, who has a bone condition, to and from doctors appointments. And she's the primary chauffeur for Shaya, 15, who stays busy with school and extracurriculars.

By the end of the day, Jeannie's exhausted but still feels like she hasn't done enough.

"It's hard because I worry about her, and I also worry about my kids," Jeannie said. "I feel guilty either way because I don't have enough time for everyone."

Most sandwich generation caregivers like Jeannie are struggling with guilt, said Christian Living Communities' Latshaw.

"It's really tough for them to find the time to take care of, basically, two families," she said. "They're going, 'I'm not spending enough time over here,' and, 'I'm not spending enough time with the kids.' It's emotionally tough."

The stress can take a toll on caregivers' health. The U.S. Department of Health has found that caretakers are twice as likely to be depressed and have an increased risk for infectious and chronic diseases.

Families can relieve some of the stress by reaching out, Latshaw said. Adult day programs and in-home care services can help seniors who still live independently, while assisted living and nursing homes are best for seniors who need full-time attention.

Some organizations, such as Christian Living Communities, offer continuous care at one site, from cottages for independent living to a full-service nursing home. As seniors' needs increase, they never have to move more than a few yards to their new home.

Adult children should talk with their parents early on to determine what works for both of them, Latshaw said.

"Research and learn about the options out there, I would say," she said. "And well before you need them."

The high cost of caring

Neither Bob nor Jeannie can remember the last time they bought new clothes for themselves or went out for a nice dinner.

Since Jeannie quit her job at Hyde Park Jewelers four years ago to concentrate on the family, Bob's job as a print salesman has been their primary source of income.

Though the money is enough to cover their expenses, there have been sacrifices.

"We don't travel very much or shop for ourselves," Jeannie said. "We always make sure the kids' and Grandma's needs come first."

Roughly 62 percent of caregivers report that care giving has affected their work, according to the AARP. The average adult will spend $19,525 in out-of-pocket expenses when caring for a senior.

Caregivers will also lose about $650,000 over their lifetime, either from taking unpaid leaves of absence, being passed over for promotions or raises, or quitting or retiring early. That number riases if seniors or families don't have adequate health care coverage.

The high price can make it difficult for parents in the sandwich generation to save for college tuition and their own retirement, let alone take care of necessities such as groceries and school supplies.

"It can be a huge financial drain for everybody," Latshaw said.

Latshaw refers her clients to geriatric care managers, independent advisers who specialize in the financial and legal implications of care-giving.

"They can be so beneficial to walk people through, find the resources and just educate them about what's out there," Latshaw said. "It can be a difficult system to maneuver through."

Caregivers also have certain rights as employees. The Family Medical Leave Act entitles employees to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without loss of position or health benefits at most companies.

Latshaw said some companies are even starting to modify flex-time and leave policies to accommodate caregivers as the sandwich generation situation becomes more prevalent, and she expects the trend to continue.

"Employers are going to have to be a little more supportive with flex time," she said. "As caregiver numbers get greater, they're going to have to get a little more creative."

"We're lucky"

Despite the financial and emotional hardships, no one in the Turner family would change their situation.

Bernice, who uses a walker and is hard of hearing, likes to complain about her lack of independence and her nosy children.

But thanks to Jeannie and Bob, Bernice has the time and energy to enjoy bingo several nights a week, regular trips to IHOP and the occasional Colorado Rockies game.

Most importantly, she has avoided nursing homes, which she dreads.

"At nursing homes, they tell you what to do, they tell you when to get up, they tell you when to eat," she said. "I don't want to do that. I don't know what I would do without these two."

Shaya and George don't resent the extra work that goes into caring for their grandma; they've even volunteered at a senior center to spend more time with elderly people as a result.

"It's just taught me to be a nicer person," Shaya said. "To respect my elders."

Most importantly, Jeannie said, the whole situation has allowed the family to spend all the time they can with Bernice while they still have it.

"There isn't anybody else that I would want to do stuff for Grandma," she said. "We're just lucky enough to have her in our life."

Sandwich by the numbers

November is National Family Caregivers Month. A look at care-giving in the United States by the numbers:

* 22 million - number of U.S. households providing care for an elderly relative or friend.

* 40 - percentage of caregivers who are also raising children.

* 4.5 - average number of years spent providing care.

* $659,139 - average amount of money a caregiver will lose over a lifetime.

* 78 - percentage of adults in the U.S. who receive all their care from an informal caregiver, usually a wife or adult daughter.

* 8 - percentage of adults in the U.S. who receive no informal care from family or friends.

Help for caregivers

Arapahoe County Senior Services provides information about services for the elderly in the area. 14980 Alameda Drive, Aurora, Colo., 80012; 303-636-1130; www.co.arapahoe.co.us.

Adult Children of Elderly Parents is group for Denver-area caregivers and relatives of the elderly looking for support and resources. The group meets twice monthly at Cornerstone Books, 3601 S. Sherman St., in Englewood. Call Marina at 720-272-2846 for more information.

The Denver Regional Council of Governments serves as the region's Area Agency on Aging. Its Web site offers information and links to senior resources. www.drcog.org or 303-455-1000.

Colorado's Division on Aging and Adult Services provides information on state services for seniors. http://www.cdhs.state.co.us/aas or 303-866-5700.

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