From finding the perfect gifts to assembling bikes at midnight, the holiday season can be particularly stressful for parents with children of all ages. For parents caring for both children and their aging parents, the holidays can be downright overwhelming.
So many people today face this added responsibility that they have been dubbed the “sandwich generation” – middle-aged parents sandwiched between their growing children and their aging mothers and fathers.
This dual responsibility has become increasingly common in recent years as older patients get discharged from hospitals earlier than ever. Earlier releases mean larger roles for caregivers who must now provide care that used to be given in hospitals. Not only are these frail patients coming home sicker, they are living longer, making the care-giving period more challenging.
Longer lifespans also translate into higher expenses, especially for people caring for parents with dementia. A study published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that compared to heart disease and cancer, dementia incurred the greatest health care expense in the last five years of life. While Medicare paid about the same amount for patients with each disease, the average out-of-pocket costs for patients with dementia was more than 80 percent higher.
If your loved one is seriously ill, you might find that hospice is a good fit for your situation. Hospice care is an option for people facing life-limiting illnesses and conditions who have six months or less to live if the illness runs its normal course. Hospice can last longer than six months as long as the person still meets hospice eligibility.
Hospice professionals work with you as part of a team to help navigate the challenges. Hospice also provides volunteers who can give you a break for caregiving. A fully-covered Medicare benefit, hospice care is most often provided in the patient’s home, but it can also be provided in hospitals, assisted living and nursing homes.
Whether you have hospice helping or not this holiday season, what can parents do who are sandwiched between two generations? Here are nine tips to help you deal with caregiver stress:
1 Practice self-care. If you don’t take care of your own physical and mental health needs, you won’t be able to adequately care for the health of others.
2. Become an expert. The more you learn about the illnesses or disabilities your parents are suffering from, the less anxiety you’ll feel about your new role.
3. Talk about advance care plans. Find out how your parent wants to be cared for at the end of life. Do they want comfort care, which hospice can provide, or aggressive treatment regardless of quality of life?
4. Get a handle on costs. Sit down with your parents and have them make a list of assets and debts, income and expenses, insurance policies, wills and any other important financial information.
5. Share the workload. You might handle the bulk of care-taking duties, but that doesn’t mean other family members can’t help. Ask your children to lend a hand with household chores.
6. Set limits. Be realistic about how much of your time you can devote. Ask the doctor about hospice care.
7. Encourage independence. Caregiving does not mean doing everything for your aging parent. Be open to technologies and strategies that allow your parents to be as independent as possible.
8. Prioritize. Make a list of all of the things that need to be done and then prioritize them.
9. Turn to friends and family. While nothing will take your stress away completely, sometimes just venting your frustration to friends and family can help. You can also join a local caregiving-support group or find online support group help at www.caregiver.org.
If you’re part of the sandwich generation, don’t let yourself get spread too thin over the holidays. You might feel torn between parenting and caregiving, but by finding a happy medium you can make the holidays special for your children, your parents and yourself. Remember that hospice might be able to help.
Amy Tucci is president and CEO of the Hospice Foundation of America, based in Washington, D.C. For information, visit hospicefoundation.org.