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Finding Balance in the Sandwich Generation: Aging Parents and Your New Life

It’s really hard navigating how to manage aging parents, there are so many layers of stress and responsibility that you can prepare for, but when the time comes, no one feels ready.

How to Balance Aging Parents, Work & Children

If you’ve got aging parents who need more care and children you’re raising in your life at the same time, welcome to the Sandwich Generation! It’s really hard navigating how to manage aging parents, and even harder when you’ve also got kids and a spouse who need your time. There are so many layers of stress and responsibility to caring for aging parents that you can prepare for, but when the time comes, no one feels ready.

Health issues (yours and your parents’) become bigger, more serious, and have longer recovery times, requiring more care that may be beyond your abilities. Our parents may be experiencing memory or dementia issues, which can impact their cognitive abilities. They move slower, think slower. Every action requires more of your time and effort–and patience–and you already have a full plate of responsibilities, between work, kids, and spouses. And then both you and your parent(s) have to realize and accept that this is happening. Your parent is getting older and isn’t mentally or physically capable of doing the things you’re both used to them being able to do on their own. How do you do it?

How do you balance out the feeling that you’re being pulled in a million directions at once?

How do you take care of yourself and everyone else? How do you decide when it’s time for your aging parent to move into assisted living, and how do you have that conversation with them? Should you choose assisted living or independent living? Are the options for independent living enough for your parent, or do you need more specialized care – like memory care?

Caring for aging parents can be really hard. Let’s talk about how to get through this new chapter in both of your lives.

How and When to Start Talking about Big Decisions for the Care of Aging Parents

For many families, the roles of child and parent will reverse. It doesn’t often happen quickly. And when the reversal comes, one of the hardest pills to swallow is when we come to the realization that parents are becoming less capable of making big or small (or sometimes both) decisions for themselves.

Ideally, you want to start having conversations about the big decisions with your parents wishes early, before a health problem or other crisis arises that forces everyone to make decisions out of fear and urgency, that might not be the best for them or you. When you start seeing the signs, including the big logistical topics, you want to make sure you are on the same page about: a living will, a last will and testament (to distribute assets); and a funeral plan.

There are also a myriad of less well-defined, more emotional topics that you need to address when taking care of aging parents, that you and your parents also need to talk about. Here are just a few we recommend addressing.

Black elderly woman with red glasses smiling

The Most Important Thing to an Aging Parent: Independence

The most difficult part about your parents getting older, for you and for them, is the loss of independence. Think about how it feels when you get sick or injure yourself and you are forced to rely on others to do the simplest tasks. Often, the thing that keeps you going is knowing that you’ll recover and be able to return to your normal activities. When age forces a longer recovery, or brings with it an injury or degenerative disease in which there is no recovery, routines and habits have to change to adapt – and sometimes also comes the need for assistance. This loss of independence can be devastating for your parents and add a whole new set of responsibilities for you and your entire family.

When it’s time for them to stop driving, or when it becomes clear to you that they can’t live without assistance anymore, for you, it’s a matter of concern for their safety. For them, it’s the loss of control and freedom to do their own thing, go where they want, when they want to. There is a loss of individuality and can cause a sense of isolation from the people and activities they once enjoyed as fully capable adults. It is important to be patient and understanding when addressing your parents’ loss of independence. Caring for aging parents isn’t just about attending to their physical needs; you have to be sensitive to and have compassion for how hard these changes are for them, catering to emotional needs and their social wellness, too.

The loss of independence is felt most strongly by the parent who recognizes your roles have reversed. You are now having to care for them the way they used to care for you. Framing care decisions in a way that looks less like you’re telling them what to do and more like making decisions together can make the path forward easier – and leaves the parent feeling as if they’re maintaining independence and have a voice in their choice of care.

In an assisted living setting, your parents can still feel a sense of independence, with the added benefit of a full professional staff who can help when needed. Our staff can keep an eye on how they are managing daily living tasks like eating meals and hygiene without being intrusive or forcing them to admit problems that they might be embarrassed to discuss with their children.

The Second Most Important Thing to An Aging Parent: Relevance

With the loss of independence, frequently comes the loss of feeling needed or relevant. Without the ability to do things for themselves and the freedom to participate in activities freely, they may feel like they have no sense of purpose anymore. It is important to your ability to care for aging parents to attend to their social wellness by helping them find ways to engage. Whether it’s finding groups that do activities together, volunteering at hospitals or animal shelters, or getting them involved with your family’s activities, their social wellness can be just as important as their physical wellness.

Simply talking with them and consulting them and keeping them involved in family life as much as you can or talking about their care and health can go a long way to help them feel like they still matter. Even engaging them in your kids’ school work or projects can give them the opportunity to share their wisdom and knowledge and gives your kids the chance to learn about who they are and why. Finding ways to make them feel relevant can go a long way to improving social wellness in seniors.

When they are residents of Cadence Living, their voice counts in every aspect of their care for as long as they’re able to make sound, reasonable decisions – if not, we’ll turn to designated decision makers, like children from their family of origin or family of choice, for help. They’ll be included in activities with their peers, and will be kept engaged. We’ll even explore therapies – such as music therapy – to make sure their social wellness is included in their overall care.

How to Manage Aging Parents Who Refuse Help

Parents who refuse help may be one of the hardest challenges when it comes to how to manage aging parents. The conversation about your parents needing help isn’t an easy one to have. They may fight the idea and push back, even if it really is for the best for all involved.

So, how to manage aging parents who refuse help? It’s a really tricky thing to navigate! It takes patience, empathy, and sometimes difficult decisions on the part of the caretaker – especially if the signs are clear that it is time to either get help in the home or for them to move into assisted living, but the parent is not seeing the signs or is not ready to acknowledge the time has come. It can be a huge step for them to accept that they need more care than they have. And how you approach the topic can make all the difference when it’s time to get help.

  • Make sure your parents know that you are on their side, that you want what’s best for them, and that moving into assisted living is not a punishment.
  • Consider offering options, allowing them to be the final decision-maker.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of assisted living for them, from having trained professionals nearby 24 hours a day to assist with medical and crisis care to having someone else there to make their meals, to having an entire community of peers to participate in activities with.
  • Don’t dismiss their feelings; really listen to their concerns. Be compassionate to their fears and be patient with them.
  • Especially if there are cognitive issues, remember that they are not the same parents they used to be, and they may need time to adjust to the idea of moving into assisted living.
  • Highlight the benefits of having entertainment options – like craft days, group exercise classes or music therapy options – that cater to them and their social wellness – especially if their level of activity has changed radically because of physical limitations.
Woman's hands crossing over her heart

The Most Important Thing for You: Setting Boundaries and Self-Care

With all that’s going on with taking care of aging parents, how do you have anything left for your kids and spouse? What about your job or any other responsibilities that already had your life full before it became clear your parents needed more care? As part of the Sandwich Generation, you are not alone in this constant push and pull of your time and energy. If there was ever a time in your life when you needed to set boundaries and make sure you are taking care of yourself, now is it!

  • Do not try to do this alone. Get the whole family involved–not just the ones who live with you. Sit everyone, parents and kids, down and talk about how everyone can play a role in keeping the family together and caring for each other. Even little ones have an opportunity to learn how to be kind and patient with their grandparents–and you!
    Take time for yourself, away from everyone else. Even if it’s just an hour to go for a walk or to sit in your car and cry, there are few emergencies that warrant interruptions when you need to take a break.
  • Do your best to eat a healthy diet and get some exercise every day.
    Sleep can be hard when there’s so much stress, but lack of sleep can have a tremendous impact on your ability to be patient and think clearly; the two tools you need most right now.
  • Be open with your spouse, parents and children about the finances so that everyone understands the situation and how it will affect them.
  • Include your needs in the conversation about moving into assisted living. Boundaries and self-care should be part of the conversation, especially if you’re still working on how to help aging parents who refuse help. Most aging parents will tell you that they do not want to be a burden; it’s a huge part of why they are fighting so hard for their independence. Surely they want you to be able to take care of your children and yourself, and assisted living can offer the support both of you need.

The Final Most Important Thing for You: Coping Mechanisms and Humor

You’re going to need to find outlets to process your care for aging parents. Sometimes you’ll need a way to navigate an uncomfortable conversation, sometimes it will help you both to stop dwelling on the hardships.

  • Have a sense of humor about the reversal of roles; the situations that could otherwise be embarrassing for both of you; help you and them find ways to laugh through the hard moments.
  • Focus on activities you enjoy doing together. Going on nature walks? Cooking? Shopping? Museums? Whatever it is, as long as you can still do things together, you have the opportunity to create great memories that will become important to you as time passes and their aging progresses. And asking for advice on things important to the parent (like a favorite recipe or cleaning tip) can give joy to your parent and useful information to you.
  • Keep your coping mechanisms for handling stress handy; you’ll need them. Whether it’s meditation or yoga, taking a walk, reading a book or a 20-minute nap, there will be times when you need to disconnect and take care of yourself, so that you can better care for those around you.

Now that restrictions have been lifted, it is a good time to come and visit one of the Cadence Living communities, to see what we have to offer that can support the care of aging parents–for you and for them. We have accommodations for independent living, assisted living and even memory care. We also offer activities that meet your parent’s physical and social wellness needs, as well as spaces and programs designed specifically for memory care needs.

Give us a call and schedule a tour today!