Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Caregiving hits sandwich generation hard

Everyone I know is a member of the sandwich generation today. My friend, Melanie, spent the week at her father's bedside in the hospital, juggling her work, husband, friends and kids with her handy (and prohibited in the hospital) cell phone.

My friends Ken and Elaine cornered me at a dinner party Saturday night with questions about how to help his parents move out of their home into an assisted living community. And then how to keep his siblings from freaking out and throwing a fit when he achieves it.

It's not easy being a member of the generation whose parents are living longer than any before in history. My own aging mother, living happily and busily in a retirement community, takes the train at least twice a year to stay with her mother, who, at 98, is queen of her retirement community in northern Minnesota.

She called me during her last visit saying, "Grandma keeps falling and I don't know what to do. Can you talk to her and tell her to be a good girl and stop trying to get out of bed at night?"

My mother knows that it isn't helpful to talk down to older people - she taught me that when I was just a child.

But dealing with her own mother turns her into any other frustrated family member. She forgets to objectively look at what is causing my grandmother to fall, and to work on solutions. She reacts emotionally - as we all do when dealing with our family.

I'm just far enough away that I could talk through the situation with my mom and help her find some workable solutions. Turning my grandma's bed so that there was more room on the side she likes to use to get in and out means that she can fit her walker there (she couldn't before, leading to fall after fall). We talked about solutions like a smaller bed, half-rails for her to use to pull herself up and steady herself when she first gets up, maybe even a bed-side commode for night needs. There are logical ways to start addressing the problems of falling, at least in my grandma's case.

But at the moment, my mom was shaken up. She was upset, scared and frustrated. She acted like we all act when we feel helpless to solve the problems of our aging parents.

There is one thing we members of the sandwich generation are learning, though. Simply this: when we turn to other people for ideas, advice and support we can get through some of the toughest spots we face on this journey through life.

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