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The Alzheimer’s Association’s Top 5 Tips to Support Sandwich Caregivers

Caregiving in any capacity requires patience, compassion and effort on the part of the caregiver, but “sandwich generation caregivers” have even greater demands on their time and energy.

Caregiving in any capacity requires patience, compassion and effort on the part of the caregiver, but “sandwich generation caregivers” have even greater demands on their time and energy. The term describes those who are caring for a parent and raising a family, dealing with the uncertainties of age and illness on one hand and the needs of children on the other.

National surveys have found that roughly one quarter of dementia caregivers fall in the sandwich caregivers category and are raising a child or multiple children under the age of 18 while caring for the dementia patient. Of the caregivers in this category, two thirds are also holding down jobs. This leaves many sandwich caregivers stretched precariously thin as they work to balance competing priorities, and it’s their own health that takes a hit.

The 2017 Alzeheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report revealed that compared with non-caregivers and even non-sandwich caregivers, sandwich caregivers indicate lower quality of life, diminished health and a reduced likelihood of engaging in healthy behaviors. Below are the Alzeheimer’s Association’s top five tips for helping sandwich caregivers rise to the challenge before them.

1. Take care of yourself

It’s easy to overlook your own wellbeing when you’re focused on helping others, but caregivers who can carve out just 30 minutes a day to spend doing something they enjoy are less stressed.

Make an effort to exercise, eat well and get plenty of rest. Caregiving isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and you owe it to yourself and the people who depend on you to prioritize your own wellbeing as much as you do the wellbeing of others. The Alzeheimer’s Association has specific tips to help caregivers recognize and relieve stress that can help you get started.

2. Maintain good communications

Often, sandwich generation caregivers feel guilty when caregiving tasks detract from family time that would be spent with their spouse and children.

Experts recommend that caregivers communicate with their families so they can understand the demands the caregiver is facing. They can also try to involve their spouse and children in caregiving efforts to get much-needed support.

A 2017 Alzheimer’s Association survey found that 91 percent of Americans believe it takes a village to care for a person living with Alzheimer’s, but many caregivers fail to ask for help. When kids help out it doesn’t just provide the sandwich caregiver with needed relief – it teaches kids about compassion, empathy and gratitude.

3. Seek professional support

Sometimes, demands outside of caregiving responsibilities leave insufficient time for the sandwich caregiver to completely address the needs of the person they’re caring for. In these instances, it’s important for the caregiver to seek outside help to protect the wellbeing of the person they’re caring for as well as their own physical and emotional health.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s online Community Resource Finder can help you locate dementia care resources in your area. Adult day programs, in-home assistance, companions and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help fill gaps in availability or capacity to take care of everyday needs. Visit the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center to learn more and access care training resources, including free online workshops.

4. Talk to your boss

According to a 2015 AARP report, 53% of employed caregivers indicated that their employers offered flexible work schedules. If you think a little flexibility could help you better manage your responsibilities at home, you should have a conversation with your employer.

Options to explore include special hours, telecommuting, an extended lunch break or shorter work week. You can’t know what options are available until you ask, and a little change could make a big difference in your ability to meet the many demands you face.

5. Know that you’re doing your best

There’s no handbook that tells you how to be a parent, and there’s no handbook that tells you how to be a caregiver. You’re making it up as you go along and you’re filling both roles to the best of your ability.

You might feel like you should do more, but you’re only one person and you only have so much time and energy to give. Identify the tasks that are essential, then delegate other lesser responsibilities to others. For support and encouragement, you can always turn to join ALZConnected, the Alzeheimer’s Association’s online caregiver community, or investigate offerings from your local chapter.

It might sound paradoxical, but the most important thing that sandwich caregivers can do is to take care of themselves. Paying attention to and investing in your own health and wellbeing is the only thing that will help you maintain your ability to furnish those you care for with the loving, compassionate care only you can provide.

The Alzheimer's Association Southeast Florida Chapter offers caregivers resources, information and guidance. Visit one of four local office to get help, participate in a support group or enjoy rewarding volunteer opportunities. For more details and information, visit alz.org/seflorida.

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