Certified Dementia Practioner, Speaker, Trainer and Caregiver
I was familiar with the term “Sandwich Generation” coined by Social Worker Dorothy Miller. It was to indicate the segment of folks who were still raising children but who were also caring for aging parents. After more than 12 years working with caregivers and individuals with a dementia, it occurred to me that it wasn’t really just about a particular generation. It seemed to me that most caregivers were “sandwiched.” It might be the 19-year-old granddaughter or the 87-year-old spouse, but whatever their age or generation, caregivers seem to be smashed, jammed, rammed, wedged and squeezed (these are synonyms for the word sandwich) between their own lives, jobs, interests, and health care needs, and those of the person for whom they care.
I experienced this first hand recently. After my mother’s two consecutive hip fractures one fateful September, I cancelled my own appointment with my primary care physician, another for my eye exam, as well as a dental appointment. I had much too much to do managing Mom’s care. There was no time for me.
A diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease a few years ago prompted my sister and me to make some changes at Mom’s home. We took up the throw rugs (as Mother went behind us and put them back down), took down the shower doors, and – according to Mother – ruined her bathroom by installing grab bars. We worried continuously. I was frustrated each time we had to hire someone to clean the gutters or shovel the driveway. My 80-something-year-old mother really did not need to be living in a 3000 sq. foot home, but of course, she did not want to move. Then came the hip fractures. Add to that, the fact that I lived an hour away and my sister, four hours away. Clearly something had to change. So we arranged for Mom to move to an assisted living facility just minutes from my house. I could leave my workplace at lunch to check on her or stop by on my way home from work. We also hired a private caregiver for a few hours each day to provide Mom with personal attention. All the staff knew that if I was needed, I was just minutes away. And although Mom was now in a safe place and much closer to me, my life has become consumed with her care and needs.
Now let’s fast forward to this past weekend. My sister came in to town with her youngest daughter, and our entire weekend was dedicated to time with Mom and doing things she enjoyed. I ignored the chores at my house and the work project that needed some weekend effort. Friday evening dinner was at Mom’s favorite restaurant. Not our choice, but the senior citizens sure love the place! On Saturday, we went out to lunch at another of Mom’s favorite spots. We did a little shopping and then back to my house for a home-cooked dinner.
Later that evening, we took Mom back to the assisted living facility. As we pulled up to Hilltop Manor, Mom sighed heavily and said, “I just feel like I’m on a desert island, and no one cares about me at all.” Well, so much for the time spent with us all day doing things to please Mother! My sister and I shared a glance, and we too, sighed heavily.
I guided Mom and her walker into the front door of Hilltop Manor and immediately saw one of the other residents walking quickly toward me with her focus on the door. She was dressed for bed time in a blue gown with matching robe and slippers, and the look on her face was one of angry determination. A few steps behind her – trying to catch up – was one of the facility staff members. I immediately sensed my role, and I planted myself in the doorway – much to my sister’s surprise as she slammed into my back.
The determined little woman, who barely reached my chest, came right up to me and attempted to push me out of her way as she stated, “I’m getting out of here.”
I responded, as I solidly blocked the exit, “Oh, I’m so sorry. We were just coming in and bringing my mother home.” By that time the staff member had caught up with the would-be escapee and gave me a grateful look.
“Now Mrs. Jones, let’s go get you ready for bed,” the staff person said as she very gently took Mrs. Jones’ elbow.
I stepped inside the entry, let my sister in, and firmly closed the door as Mrs. Jones responded angrily, “You ##!!@! girl, I am not about to stay here. I’m getting out of here!”
My sister and I tried to ease our way past this lively discussion and catch up with our mother who was standing by the elevator to go to her second floor room. “Well, how about if we go and call Sue Ann and tell her good night?” said the staffer.
Mrs. Jones snarled,” I don’t want to talk to that %#$!!% Sue Ann. I hate that &#@!# girl!”
As we walked toward the elevator, I looked at my sister and said softly, “I guarantee you Sue Ann is the daughter who is just trying to do her best.”
Such is the life for we who are “sandwich caregivers.”
Jane Marks is a wife, mother, daughter, pet owner, grandmother, and all around busy person. Like many of you she is juggling as fast as she can. She recently retired from her long-standing position as Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association, WV Chapter. Jane is still committed, however, to the cause of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Learn more about Jane at www.SandwichCaring.com.