Sandwich generation needs our help

Posted on: 20 November 2015 by Lynda Shaw

Dr Lynda Shaw highlights the problems faced by people who juggle caring for elderly parents with the needs of their own children and work.

Sandwich generation

Rewind back to the days when it was customary for families of mixed generations to all live under one roof and where everyone in your community knew you and if there were hard times in the family, people rallied to support you. This ideology has of course in many ways since moved on and whilst this impacts all generations and each sector in our society, one group are really struggling – The Sandwich Generation.

The problem lies with the fact that there simply just aren’t enough hours in the day to work, look after young families, look after elderly parents in the way that was once possible because we had support back in the day.  And what about fulfilling our own needs and aspirations - how does this fit into the equation?

According to a 2012 Carer UK survey, there is an estimated 2.4 million sandwich generation carers in the UK.  The sandwich generation is under immense pressure and are at best juggling their many roles but at worst struggling and sinking under the pressure.

Putting feelings of guilt and obligation aside, taking responsibility to care for two or three generations may not be a sustainable solution for the long term.  Anxiety and stress levels will progressively increase, which can lead to health deterioration, conflict in marriages and eventually grind down the family unit and affect work commitments too. Certainly for this growing demographic, we need to offer more support and we need to acknowledge that they too have needs of their own, whether it’s developing their own career, enjoying a hobby or just having the space to breathe!

One way of alleviating the burden is for family members to rally round and offer to share the load.  Even the older children can get involved – if anything, grandparents are often keen to hear about what the younger generation get up to or to be shown the latest gadget.   But it’s not just about what you can do to help your elderly family members because it is equally important that we enable their independence.   Bar serious medical problems, there is plenty that can still be done by an elderly person given the chance.  Loneliness and social isolation are threats to the physical and mental well-being of the older generation, so it’s crucial to encourage them to be as sociable and active as possible. Encouraging other people to drop by to your elderly family member for a cup of tea and a chat is a great start. By painting a more positive picture about ageing, and encouraging the elderly to build on new friendships and be involved in social events such as coffee mornings and trips to the theatre, we are enabling them to be engaged, empowered and respected.

We need to re-evaluate our own mind-set and change the way we approach care for the elderly and make full use of the choices that are available to us, because there is plenty of it.   It’s not always possible of course for others to take on the caring role and sometimes the sandwich generation family member is the only option. But equally the sandwich generation also need to stay connected and be part of a community and to enjoy life to the full and they need support too - before they burn out.

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