‘All of your worlds colliding’: Sandwich Generation caregivers unique challenges and joys

Data shows sandwich generation caregivers are more than twice as likely to have financial difficulties and have higher rates of emotional challenges.
Data shows sandwich generation caregivers are more than twice as likely to have financial difficulties and have higher rates of emotional challenges.
Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 5:50 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Understanding the challenges of the “sandwich generation” of caregivers. New numbers show it’s a growing category of caregivers, with a quarter representing caregivers providing care for two generations, their parent, and at least one child.

Data from the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows they are more than twice as likely to have financial difficulties and have higher rates of emotional challenges. But there’s help.

Jamie Patterson has over a decade of experience in higher education.

“I’m a really good hype man,” she said. “You just want to see other people succeed and do really good things in the world.”

The passion runs in her DNA, her father was once her principal, and later a college professor.

“For him we were always wired that the most important thing in life is education and making sure that you are lifting other people up,” Patterson said.

And about seven years ago, she found herself seeking education on dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“You’re kind of in denial to, like is this really happening or are we just running out of things to talk about,” she said.

Patterson says her dad was repeating conversations, he didn’t recognize some members of the family, and a trip back home to Pennsylvania was eye-opening.

“It’s like what you would see in the movies where you’re like something is not right here,” she said.

She coped by picking up running and doing her research.

“I think this world can be really isolating especially for a caregiver,” Patterson said. “And not to knock family members, but it’s really hard when someone you love starts to lose who they really were and you watch family members who really can’t handle it.”

Data from a Blue Cross Blue Shield report shows some caregivers use alcohol, medication and food to cope with caregiver burnout, stress and depression.

“If you are not able to sleep, if you are not able to go to your own doctor’s appointments and see to your own health and maybe get a little bit of exercise in there – a lot of times a caregivers health will decline more quickly than the person they’re caring for because they’re not taking time for themselves,” said Beth Sulkowski, Alzheimer’s Association SC chapter vice president of communications. “It can be a very difficult job and it’s one that people don’t necessarily have training for.”

Which is why Sulkowski advises caregivers – regardless of generation, not to go it alone caring for a loved one and be proactive like Patterson.

“If you know about the resources in the community, then you’re one step ahead when you need them,” Sulkowski said. “All of your worlds colliding, and trying to figure out what everyone needs. How to keep everyone’s schedules.”

Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association offer a 24-hour helpline with a trained master level social worker 24/7.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re at the end of your rope, or just starting your journey,” Sulkowski said.

There are also free care consultations, support groups, community education and caregiver respite programming.

“It’s all about helping caregivers take care of themselves, their own physical and mental wellbeing,” Sulkowski said.

Proactive approaches with results Patterson takes seriously. The working mom has added volunteer community educator for the Alzheimer’s Association to her schedule.

“I would do anything to help that person from the beginning, from where we were,” Patterson said. “It’s such a hard area to navigate when you’re taking away cars. When you’re moving someone out of the home that they’ve lived in their entire life. Hard conversations to have about planning even just in terms of their final wishes.”

She and her father also wear matching bracelets with a quote from the Rocky film franchise, reminding them of the days ahead.

“It says ‘one step, one punch, one round at a time,’” Patterson said. “Again, we’ve got to figure out how to make the best use of the time we have left.”