TOLEDO – The empty nest seemed to be on the horizon for Carolyn Kulawiak when her oldest daughter started college and her two younger daughters started high school.
But when her 85-year-old father died unexpectedly last year, Kulawiak found himself in a different – and rapidly growing – segment of the population: the “sandwich generation carers”, middle-aged adults who look after aging parents while they are still raise children. Kulawiak took on the role of main carer for her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia after the death of her husband.
“Just like with the birth of your first child, there are no instructions on how to care for them,” said Kulawiak.
In Ohio, more than one in three dementia carers belongs to the sandwich generation, according to new figures from the Alzheimer’s Association. When students return to school, the stress for these caregivers will increase as they balance their children’s schedule and their parents’ needs.
On August 30, the Alzheimer’s Association is hosting a free virtual education program entitled “The Sandwich Generation: Caring for Aging Parents in Raising Children.” This includes topics such as developing a care plan, learning to use community resources, and coping with stress. The program starts at 6 p.m. To sign up, call 1-800-272-3900.
These issues concern caregivers like Jodi Audino, who is raising two small children and at the same time helping her parents after her father’s diagnosis of dementia.
“My biggest stress is juggling everything and setting priorities,” said Audino. “I make sure that my children get to school safely and at the same time make sure that my father’s pills are filled.”
It is estimated that 15 percent of sandwich generation caregivers are quitting or retiring early, according to Alzheimer’s Association statistics.
“It is time employers realized this is going to be a big problem or risk losing good people,” said Melissa Dever, program director, Alzheimer’s Association.
“They should help their employees develop a plan to care for their parents that will allow them to stay at work.”
Making sacrifices was an invaluable learning experience for their children, Audino said. “They know I’m there for whatever Papa Bear and Grammy need,” she said. “They understand how important it is to make memories as a family.”
Finding time to care for yourself can prove almost impossible, Kulawiak said.
“I ignored things that I should be concerned about. If I have 10 minutes to myself or if I can do a face mask with my girls, that’s my time. “
Kulawiak moved with her mother to a house a few kilometers from her own home and coordinates her mother’s care around the clock and manages the timetables of seven privately paid caregivers.
“It’s like having another child, but a child with a house and employees,” said Kulawiak.
Both Kulawiak and Audino have joined a support group for adult children through the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It’s such a relief to know you can’t go through this alone,” said Audino. “We listen to each other and we vent and we know that we are there for each other.”
Kathy Misiuk runs a monthly support group for adult children whose parents have dementia.
Not only did she share resources, books, and videos, but she said, “We give each other permission to hurt and be angry. We share the comfort of knowing that we are not alone. “
Even with such a strong support network, caregivers often feel overwhelmed.
“They are constantly in a tug-of-war and worry about who gets the short end,” said Kulawiak. “You feel overwhelmed and 24 hours a day are not enough to take care of everything and everyone. It is physically and emotionally demanding, but also rewarding when you know that you are helping to shape the life of your loved ones as well as possible. “
The Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips for sandwich generation caregivers:
Take care of yourself: Making sure you are healthy can help you be a better caregiver to others.
Maintain good communication: Help your partner or spouse and children understand the needs you are facing and get their help and support.
Looking for support: Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association and Council on Aging chapter or national advocacy group Pro Seniors. You can combine these organizations with adult daytime programs, home help, companions, and meal delivery programs, among many other services.
Talk to your employer: Some companies offer flexible schedules or allow teleworking. Discuss possible precautions that will enable you to stay productive at work.
Make a plan while your darling can still make decisions: Make an appointment with a lawyer specializing in geriatric care and talk openly with your parents about their financial situation and their wishes for care as dementia progresses.
About the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is the premier voluntary health organization in the care, support, and research of Alzheimer’s disease. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; Provide and improve care and support for all concerned; and reduce the risk of dementia by promoting brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s. Visit www.alz.org or call our 24/7 helpline at 1-800-272-3900.
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