Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Me? I Didn't Ask For This: The Sandwich Generation, Part I

By Miriam B. Medina

This is part I of a 3 part article regarding the increasing lifespan of seniors. This section will also show how this affects the family and loved ones that help them as they age. It's remarkable how much progress has been made in the fields of science and medicine, particularly in the last century. Today most seniors have been helped in living a salubrious and more productive life which has resulted in longer average life spans. Following a varied diet rich in nutrients and a moderate exercise regime, seniors have been able to better control their blood pressure and reduce the bad cholesterol to safe levels, thus slowing down the aging process. The average life expectancy today is over 79 years of age.

Many seniors today are still independent, many continue to work past retirement, travel, are involved in sports activities and volunteer work which they find, personally satisfying. They like the fact that they are still in control of their lives. An extended life for them means more time to enjoy their children, participate in events involving their grandchildren, and perhaps even more time to observe another new generation, as well. It also allows them to appreciate more things in life such as attending the theater and concerts, day tripping, enjoying the company of both aging and younger friends, inclusive expanding their creativity in as many ways possible.

We live in a society preoccupied with youth. Let's face it; people go to extremes to look younger these days. Each person is entitled to its small vanities. Nevertheless, it's like being straddled between two worlds, the youthful one that everyone clings to desperately and the aging one that they face in reality, which everyone hates and fights. However, the longer seniors live, the more they will face new, more difficult challenges, some that are too complex to overcome, some that make it difficult to maintain their independence. Most of them eventually come to live with their children, a generation herein referred to as the "Sandwich Generation."

Since most seniors live on fixed incomes, the ever-increasing cost of living along with higher health premiums, pricey medicines and costlier co-pays means that they will not be able to defend themselves economically as they grow older. The elderly have to face, a "Longevity crisis", which can be best described in economic terms as "living past the amount of their pensions and assets." Plus, when one spouse dies, two incomes are reduced to one. As the older population continues to grow older, most of the frail elderly begin to suffer from serious physical and mental health issues. It's inevitable. It's not only the law of the aging process, but the harsh reality of the circle of life.

Vision and hearing become impaired, osteoporosis sets in, a once vigorous pace slows to a shuffle, aided with the help of a cane or walker, or perhaps even a wheelchair. Memory loss becomes a lifelong companion. With age, personal vanities cease to have precedence. According to the Alzheimer's Association statistics, "There are nearly 15 million Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers providing 17 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $202 billion. Caregivers, not only suffer emotionally but also physically. More than 60 percent of family caregivers report high levels of stress because of the prolonged duration of care giving and 33 percent report symptoms of depression."

As stated, the best way to describe those that are involved in the care of the elderly today is to call them the "Sandwich Generation."

What a strange name and to whom does this moniker refer to?

It refers to the baby boomer children, now between the ages of 50 to mid 60's, or even to younger adults in their 30's and 40's.

How would you describe the circumstances that these people are in?

TRAPPED! This is the only way to put it, positively stuck right smack in the middle, like a piece of overtaxed baloney caught between two slices of resource sapping bread. It's a tug of war between aging parents who depend on them for care after years of raising them, and the demanding needs of raising their own children.

Most of those that are caretakers are women who hold jobs, wives, mothers and sisters as well. Daughters are more likely than sons to accommodate their aging parents, statistically speaking.

Caring for elderly parents carries its share of responsibilities and also a wide scope of emotions.

For the exhausted caregiver, sleep can't come too soon. Not only do they have to contend with sleepless nights, there are other things such as absorbing mom or dad's expenses, the endless paperwork, unlimited telephone calls, arguments with providers, and the never-ending visits to the doctors, pharmacies and emergency rooms. As for having any aspirations or plans of their own, its best they forget about it while they care for their parents.

In part 2, we'll explore real life scenarios that too many members of the Sandwich Generation are faced with.

To be continued: Part II

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1 comment:

Medicare Plan Review said...

That was very interesting and so well written. I can't wait to read the succeeding parts.
In my opinion all of us who becomes parents becomes part of the "sandwich generation". The only difference is the current sandwich generation is having or would be having a tougher time than the previous generations because of the current economic situation.