When working with elderly patients in health care facilities, it is likely that we may forget about the needs of their adult children aka The Sandwich Generation. The sandwich generation is adult children typically between the ages of 30-50 who are caring for their aging parents while taking care of their own family as well.
Taking care of young children while caring for aging parents puts a great deal of stress on the adult children. In my experience working with families in hospice, I’ve noticed some factors that contribute to the stresses of this generation:
- Financial Concerns – Older Americans are living off their fixed income such as Social Security, VA pension, and personal savings which may not be enough to pay for certain expenses. Many retirees can not afford to live in assisted living facilities, or private home attendants, and monthly expenses in their current homes. The children often struggle as they have to figure out how to pay for these expenses if their income is limited as well. This issue is very common for funeral expenses since many retirees don’t have life insurance.
- Feuding Relatives – Adult children may have a long history of sibling rivalry which can leave an impact on the care of their elderly parents. One child may agree to hospice care while the other beliefs in aggressive treatment. The rivalry can easily be carried into a facility where we, the social workers usually witness the drama.
- Lack of Awareness – You will be surprised how many adult children are not aware of health care proxy, advance directives, or how life insurance works. Some assume that their parents’ insurance will cover everything. Many times I had to inform the children that Medicare does not cover long term costs which brings back to #1 on this list.
- Bad Timing– Sometimes adult children may wait till the last minute to make handle their parents’ affairs. Reasons for this occurrence may be that they learn about the resources too late, procrastination, denial, or lax in their own time management. I had adult children asking me how they can get a power of attorney for their parents, and the patient is unresponsive, and near death.
- Mom and Dad Are Not The Same – We know our parents from the time we were born. We are not use to seeing our parents getting older and sicker. Many adult children may not be prepared to watch their parents deal with a debilitating condition such as Alzheimer’s Disease. On the other hand, adult children may have their own personal issues about their parents that was unresolved. These changes can bring emotional distress to the children.
When working in hospitals, assisted living facilities, home care agencies, or adult day programs it’s very common to see these issues surface with this generation. However, social workers who work in private practice or other settings might encounter someone who experiences this as well. Unfortunately, we are unable to prevent adults from getting older and prevent the sandwich generation to face this situation. We can, however, take some steps to reduce the burden and educate this generation at our place of employment. Here are a few things to consider:
- Assess All Legal Health Forms – Many hospital staff is required to ask patients and families about advance directives, and health care proxy. Families should be educated on the advantages of having these forms in place. This can make health care decisions easier for the adult child.
- Discuss Available Services – Be aware of the services in your community which will allow you to share them with your clients. Services include, Medicaid, home care services, senior subsidized housing, and elder law attorneys are some examples of resources for the elderly. It’s very important to be aware of the referral process of these services. For example, filing for food stamps in NYC is entirely different than filing it on Long Island. If we are knowledgeable about the services than the family is well informed of their options.
- Review their coping techniques – Caregiving is physically and emotionally stressful. It’s very important that we assess how adult children are coping. Do they have a counselor to who they can speak to? Do they receive support through their place of worship? Are they attending caregiving support groups? What are their personal issues about their parents that they are struggling with? These questions are some of the examples we can ask when assessing their situation.
How social workers intervene depends on the needs of the adult children. In one situation, the child may have all the concrete needs in place but still requires emotional support. On the other hand, there will be another case where the social worker may have to review health care proxy, discuss Medicaid service, and mediate the feuding siblings.
At the end of the day, you could never give too much emotional support to the sandwich generation.