Caregivers Wedged in a Sandwich

Bonnie Baker Cowan | April 5th, 2013

Many Zoomers are not only grandparents but may also be responsible for caring for aging parents. It’s part of being caught in a sandwich generation, where, with people living longer, we are looking after parents in their late 80s and 90s, but are also being called upon for occasional or even fulltime duties caring for grandchildren.

Claudine of Montreal is wedged in such a sandwich. Her 87-year-old mother lives a few miles north of the city and Claudine is driving several times a week to take her mother to medical appointments, making meals for her to heat easily on her own and doing her laundry. Her three grandchildren live in the city and are cared for by the other grandmother, while the children’s parents are at work. Claudine’s life was busy enough, but when the other grandmother had a stroke, Claudine was called in to take over daily babysitting for the grandchildren, all under the age of five. “I always felt guilty that I couldn’t help out as much as their other grandmother,” she says, “but now, I am really stressed, because I simply can’t look after the kids fulltime and still be on call for my mother.”

Claudine did look after the children until the parents found someone else to come in, but was adamant that she could not do it fulltime and still maintain a low stress level, a factor critical to her own health.

For caregivers, it’s important to make good health a priority, and that may often mean saying “no.”

It’s important to recognize the signs of stress. Many of us think we’re thirty years younger and can just keep going, but it’s not always possible. If you’re feeling irritable and resentful, experiencing loss of sleep and being more susceptible to colds and flu, it’s time to stop and re-assess your lifestyle.

Acknowledge the stress and get help. Talk to friends or a professional or spiritual counsellor if you feel overwhelmed. Peers are often in the same predicament and their support and encouragement will be helpful in finding solutions.

Pace yourself. Set up priorities and weed out the tasks that aren’t crucial. Make sure you leave time in the day for your own pleasure, time to sit back with a cup of tea, a good book or your favorite afternoon soap.

Give yourself a break. There are lots of agencies such as Community Care Access Centers (CCAC) in each province and respite facilities to help out with the task of looking after the elderly. Seniors’ centers offer respite facilities and will take elderly people for an afternoon or day of social activities. With grandchildren, enlist the help of the other grandparents or your other grown children to help out.

There’s great satisfaction and peace of mind in caring for our loved ones, whether they’re aging parents or our precious grandchildren. But taking care of yourself first means you’ll do a better job as a caregiver and enjoy your own life too.

 

Do you know a caregiver who deserves recognition? In a unique initiative, Canadians are being asked to nominate a family, friend or professional caregiver for a “best in Canada” caregiver award and explain what they would do with a $10,000 prize. The new program – called Canada Cares – is being launched in celebration of National Caregiver Day. Nominations will be accepted until September 30, 2013 with winners announced in November.  Visit the website for more information.