CAREGIVING: JUST FOR WOMEN
INTRODUCING THE "SANDWICH GENERATION"
Juggling child care, parent care and a job — without dropping the balls or losing your own mind — is a major challenge for women of the " Sandwich Generation." According to the Administration on Aging, the care families provide for older adults make it possible for them to live at home instead of moving to a nursing home, assisted living, or other long-term care faci lity.
Although men are becoming increasingly responsible for the care of older family members, women continue to make up the majority of informal care providers. In order to do so it may be necessary for working women to decrease their work hours, take a leave of absence, pass up a job promotion, give up full -time jobs for part-time employment or quit their jobs entirely.
You can't continue to look after the needs of your older parents and your family if you' re tired, stressed out and emotionally exhausted. According to the Older Women's League 25% of female caregivers develop health problems resulting from the stresses of care giving.
Warning signs of stress that should not be ignored include:
- Gaining or losing weight without trying
- Feeling overwhelmed or trapped
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Headaches, backaches, fatigue and other physical symptoms
- Difficulty sleeping, daytime sleepiness
- Becoming impatient or feeling resentful with your relative and other family members
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems at work
- Lack of time for yourself
Once you realize the toll caregiving is taking on your physical, mental, social and emotional health you can devise strategies to cope with stressful situations.
ENLIST THE HELP OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Don't be shy about asking for help when you need it. Most people are more than willing to lend a hand when it's needed. Be specific about what you'd like a family member or friend to do. Some suggestions:
- Kids can help with indoor and outdoor chores, play games with their grandparent, make her a sandwich, and watch TV or old movies with her.
- Ask neighbors to cut the grass, shovel snow, check up on mom if you're away or at work.
- Young drivers can "chauffeur" older relatives to doctor's appointments or errands.
- Family members can stay with your parent while you take a nap.
- Friends or neighbors can pick up prescriptions or a loaf of bread for you on the way home from work.
INVESTIGATE WORKPLACE OPTIONS
Arrange a meeting with your supervisor or human resources representative to discuss your caregiving situation. Ask about policies for Family Medical Leaves of Absence or personal leave policies if you need to take time off from work to care for a family member. Talk to your supervisor about the possibility of working at home or attending meetings via conference calls.
EXPLORE COMMUNITY RESOURCES
Adult day programs offer a safe place for older adults to enjoy activities and the company of other people. Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities provide short-stay respite care. These programs make it possible for employed caregivers to continue to work and elderly spouses to have much-needed time for themselves. Look in the Yellow Pages oftelephone directory under "Adult Day Care" or "Aging Services" to find programs in your area or contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
TAKE THE EDGE OFF STRESS
Stress is common just about everyone who cares for older adult family members. Caring for a family and working fulltime increases caregiver stress dramatically. Continuing stress that many working caregivers experience affects your physical, mental and emotional health. Stress interferes with your ability to care for your elderly parent, other family members and be an effective employee.
You may not be able to eliminate the stresses in your life but you can learn techniques for managing stress. Some simple stress-busting techniques:
- Walk around the block
- Vent your feelings with an understanding friend
- Pull weeds in the garden
- Treat yourself to coffee at your favorite coffee spot
- Don't hesitate to say "no" to new tasks when you're feeling overwhelmed
- Focus on the present
- Eat healthy
- Get enough sleep
- Limit alcohol drinking
RECOGNIZE YOUR ABILITIES
It is tremendously stressful to manage caregiving responsibilities while holding down a paying job and looking after the needs of an older relative and your own family. It's also a significant accomplishment that not everyone can manage. Take pride in your ability to provide the best possible care to your parent and to your own family.
A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.