A series of speaking engagements afforded me the opportunity to hear, once again, the many voices of diverse caregivers. Their honest, heartfelt conversations concerning current trials and hardships are very moving.
I was surprised, however, when I realized that most of what these dear people were describing to me placed them smack dab in the middle of what is now known as the "Sandwich Generation." When I told them this, very few of them had ever heard the term, let alone knew that it had anything to do with them and their situation.
In the early 1980s, the phrase "Sandwich Generation" was coined to describe those hard-working folks who, in the midst of raising their own children, suddenly found themselves also caring for their ailing parent or parents - thus the "sandwich" designation.
Originally, this was thought to apply only to those in their 50s or 60s who were in the thick of being a caregiver but still had an adult child or grandchild living with them.
Well, things have changed. Now, with the acceleration of cases of early onset Alzheimer's being diagnosed, and the addition of other dementia-related diseases to the list, the "Sandwich Generation" is now becoming more of a familiar household word.
One thing that is clear is that the sacrifices made by the family are endless. However, what I hear again and again is how unfair this is to the children. Well, I guess that depends upon one's perspective.
I agree that bringing a grandparent suffering from dementia into a home is not what one would expect to be a normal experience for a child or adolescent. As the saying goes, "Things happen."
But here is a different angle: What a perfect opportunity to teach your kids some valuable lessons about life! Consider including them in decision-making. Let them be an important cog in your family's wheel of care and communication. Allow them to observe for themselves that, indeed, yours is a strong and caring family, committed to each other no matter how dire the situation. This can only be a good thing as it helps to build character. Hey, these are the kids that may likely be making decisions for you as you grow old!
I've never been one to believe in hiding things from children. I would say that most of them are very aware of their surroundings and are more durable then we give them credit. Being honest with them about what is transpiring will help prepare them for the inevitable, and it may assist in their understanding the behavioral changes they are witnessing.
Personally, I would include them in some of the caregiving duties that need to be performed. Many caregivers tell me how proud they are of their children for taking on the role of helping out with their loved ones.
We have to include the "Sandwich Generation" as being yet another phenomenon that has been partly caused by our current global financial situation. Today's "children" are staying in the comfort zone of their parents' nest much longer these days. Many venture out, only to quickly return because of financial difficulties.
Include in this thought process the fact that there are many seniors today who simply cannot afford the high cost of a care facility.
I would have to say that I don't see this "Sandwich Generation" fading away anytime soon. In fact, it may be with us for generations to come.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," "While I Still Can" and "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness" can be found at http://commonsensecaregiving.com.