Canadians are, in many cases, delaying marriage and starting a family until university and career are underway. At the same time, elderly Canadians are living significantly longer, pushing the average life expectancy into the eighties for the first time.
As our elderly live even longer, into the nineties and hundreds, grandchildren are taking a more active role in helping out at the same time they are starting their own families. One of the results of these demographic changes is a particular kind of caregiver stress affecting an aptly named group commonly called the “Sandwich Generation.”
Facts About the “Sandwich Generation”
As the large group of Canadians known as the “Baby Boomers” begins to face retirement age, they may have their own health issues at the same time they are providing care for children, teens and parents.
Along with our extended life expectancy has come a marked increase in debilitating chronic conditions of old age, especially Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In the rapidly growing “oldest old” group (those 85 or older) the rate of dementia is approaching 50 percent.
Studies show that the more hours a person spends on caregiving, the greater their risk of anxiety and depression.
More households are headed by either single parents or dual-earner parents. This trend has particular implications for women, who, despite advances in gender equality, still provide the bulk of caregiving for both children and elders. Juggling the care needs of children and elderly relatives can lead to feelings of being torn between two needy generations in the family.
Changes in the Canadian workforce have resulted in more adult children living and working a distance from their elderly parents. Caregiving from a distance has its own special challenges.
Caregiver stress is the emotional strain created by having to care for another person. Studies show that although there are many emotional benefits to being actively involved in your relative’s well-being, without proper support caregiving can take a toll on physical and emotional health.
Caregivers are far more likely to suffer from depression than their peers. Research suggests that caregivers may also be more likely to have health problems like diabetes and heart disease than non-caregivers. Given the diverse demands of caring for growing children and aging adults both at home and from a distance, it is no wonder the Sandwich Generation is calling for help.
If you have any of the following symptoms, caregiving may be putting too much strain on you:
- Sleeping problems such as sleeping too much or too little
- Change in eating habits, often resulting in weight gain or loss
- Feeling tired or without energy most of the time
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy such as going out with friends, walking or reading
- Easily irritated, angered or saddened
- Frequent headaches, stomachaches or other physical problems
Preventing and Relieving Caregiver Stress
Taking care of yourself is the first step to reducing stress in your life. In the process, you will become a better caregiver. Take the following steps to make your health a priority:
- Find out about community caregiving resources
- Ask for and accept help
- Stay in touch with friends and family. Social activities can help you feel connected and may relieve stress
- Find time for exercise most days of the week. Try to get enough sleep and rest
- Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine
- Look to faith-based groups for support and help
- Join a support group for caregivers in your situation. Your EAP can help you locate one in your area.
- See your doctor for a checkup and talk about symptoms of depression or illness you may be having.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in saturated fat. Ask your doctor about taking a daily multivitamin.
- Take it a day at a time
The Employee Assistance Program Can Help
The EAP can help by providing:
- Personal counselling to help you develop strategies for dealing with caregiving issues and the stress associated with it.
- Referrals to childcare, and eldercare options such as assisted living, at-home care and senior activities
- Financial consultation to help you understand how care is paid for—especially through the Medicare program
- Legal consultation to support you through decisions related to estate planning
- Educational resources on all sorts of topics related to caring for your family
©2014 ComPsych ® Corporation. All rights reserved. This information is for educational purposes only. It is always important to consult with the appropriate professional on financial, medical, legal, behavioural or other issues. As you read this information, it is your responsibility to make sure that the facts and ideas apply to your situation.