The Sandwich Generation: Part Two

words: Dr Bill Webster

In the previous article we looked at the problems and stresses that the ‘sandwich generation’ suffer from, caught between looking after their own kids, and caring for elderly and often sick parents. This month, we shine the spotlight on how carers can get more support.

Now we turn to some possible strategies of support on offer.

1. Ask for help

Taking on all of the responsibilities of caregiving without regular breaks or assistance is a guaranteed recipe for burnout, so don’t try to do it all alone. Look into respite care, or enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring meals, or ‘babysit’ the care receiver so you can take a well-deserved break, even for a day or an evening.

Guidelines on getting the help you need

Speak up: Don’t expect people to automatically know what you require or how you’re feeling. Be up front about what’s going on with yourself and the person under your care. If you have concerns or thoughts about how to improve the situation, express them.
Spread the responsibility: Try to get as many family members and friends involved as possible. Are there people in your church or community group, or retired people who might be able to give some time? You may also want to divide up care giving tasks. Can one person take care of doctor’s visits, another assist with weekends, and someone else help with bath or laundry responsibilities?
Appoint a ‘Communications Director’: Ask family, a friend, or a volunteer to be a ‘co-ordinator’ and regularly check in to help you communicate status updates or synchronise schedules.
Say ‘yes’ when someone offers assistance: Don’t be shy about accepting help. Let them feel good about supporting you. It’s smart to have a list ready of small tasks that others could easily take care of, such as picking up groceries or driving your loved one to an appointment. playing with the dogs, or watching the game.
Find ways to pamper yourself: Small luxuries can go a long way in boosting your spirits. Light candles and take a long bath. Ask your spouse for a back massage. Buy fresh flowers or use aromatherapy – or whatever makes you feel special.
Allow yourself to laugh: Laughter is an excellent antidote to stress, and a little goes a long way. Read a funny book, watch a comedy, or call a friend who makes you laugh. And whenever you can, try to find the humour in everyday situations.
Get out of the house: Seek out friends and family to step in with care giving so you can have some time away from the home.

3. Practice acceptance

When faced with the unfairness of a loved one’s illness or the burden of care giving, there is often a felt need to make sense of the situation and ask ‘why’? But you can spend a tremendous amount of energy dwelling on things you can’t change.

Remember that you chose to do this out of love and concern, and when the care giving is over, you will be glad that you were able to do it for them. Sometimes life involves sacrificing for those we care about.

Focus on things you can control, not things you can’t: You can’t wish the person’s cancer away or force family members to help out more. Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, focus on the way you choose to react to problems.
Find a silver lining: Think about the ways care giving has made you stronger, or how it has brought you closer to this person. Think about how care giving allows you to give back and show your love.
Share your feelings: Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the situation. Talk to a friend or counsellor about your experiences and feelings as a family caregiver.
Join a support group: A caregiver support group is a great way to share your troubles and find people who are going through the same experiences you are living daily. If you can’t leave the house, many online groups are available. In a group, you can talk about your problems and listen to others share; you’ll get help, but you’ll also help others. Most importantly, you’ll find out that you’re not alone, and their knowledge can be invaluable.
Find a balance: Don’t let care giving take over your whole life. It’s easier to accept involvement in a difficult situation when there are other areas of your life that are rewarding. Invest in the things that give you meaning and purpose, whether it’s family, church, a favourite hobby, or your career.

4. Make your own health a priority

Think of your body like a car: With the right fuel and proper maintenance, it will run reliably and well. But neglect its upkeep and it will start giving you trouble. Don’t add to the stress of your care giving situation with avoidable health issues. So pay attention to your own health, and don’t skip medical appointments or check-ups. You need to be healthy in order to take good care of your family member.
Exercise: When you’re stressed and tired, the last thing you feel like doing is exercising. But exercise is a great stress reliever and mood enhancer, and you’ll feel better afterwards. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes most days. When you exercise regularly, you’ll find it helps you fight fatigue.
Meditate: Taking time daily to relax, meditate or pray can help reduce stress and boost feelings of happiness and wellbeing. You can try yoga, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation. Even a few minutes can help you feel more centred.
Eat well: Nourish your body with good snacks like fresh fruit, vegetables, and nuts, unlike sugar and caffeine, which provide a quick pick-me-up and then an even quicker crash.
Get enough sleep: Most people need more sleep than they think they do and usually get. Sleep deprivation will affect your mood, energy, productivity, and as a result your ability to handle stress.

However, all that said, I realise we cannot leave the issue of self-care exclusively in the hands of the very person who is already burnt out looking after a loved one; government agencies and healthcare systems need to be proactive in providing much needed and sadly overdue assistance.

Authorities need to understand and address the factors that may have contributed to the alarming increase in caregiver distress. The following recommendations would make a good beginning:

• Better preparation, instruction and support for those who take on the responsibilities of caring for an elderly parent.
• Better co-ordination of home care services and clearer information on what services are available.
• More consistent and reliable delivery of services.
• More respite services, such as adult daycare programmes, and more support and services for high needs patients.

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