Featuring: Alexandra Petrakos, MD
"Sandwich generation" is a term used to describe adults who act as caregivers for their children and their parents at the same time. This can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be.
"Prior to agreeing to be a caregiver, you should consider factors such as what the role will entail or how much time will potentially be needed to fill the role, and if you're actually able to fulfill those requirements," says Alexandra Petrakos, MD, a Northwestern Medicine geriatrician.
Before you take on the responsibilities of being a caregiver for multiple generations, here are some things to consider first.
Communication Is Key
Outline your expectations and your parents' expectations. This helps establish boundaries, which are essential to a caregiving relationship that is respectful, supportive and caring. During these conversations, be firm, but kind.
"Having guidelines helps the parent know what their adult child's limits are, and it also helps the caregiver know what their parents' limits are. It's a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page," says Dr. Petrakos.
If you have to say no to your parents, that's OK. "If you approach saying no from a position of love and care, rather than frustration and resentment, your parents are more likely to be understanding of that," says Dr. Petrakos. "Then it's an opportunity to brainstorm an alternative solution."
After establishing and communicating your boundaries and your parents' boundaries, everyone should respect them. When someone crosses a boundary, speak up. Here are ways to address your loved one when this happens:
Protect Your Health and Well-Being
Caring for yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver.
"You can only be a good, effective and safe caregiver if you have your own health intact first," Dr. Petrakos says. She suggests these tips for self-care:
Involve Your Children
If you feel overextended, ask your children for help with age-appropriate caregiving tasks. This can help strengthen bonds between you, your parents and your children. However, remember that caring for older adults can take away time and attention from your children, no matter their age. Make time to do something one-on-one with your child, like a movie night or playing a game.
Know When to Change Course
At some point, you may need to re-evaluate your caregiver role, and that's OK. It might be time for a new approach if:
"Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion from the burdens of being a caregiver. There are a lot of signs or elements that contribute to it," says Dr. Petrakos. "The best way to relieve that stress is to delegate some of the work, hire a caregiver, or seek professional guidance to offer support and provide solutions."
This article was originally published in the Feinberg School of Medicine News Center on April 20, 2022.
Alexandra Petrakos, MD, assistant professor of Geriatrics
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