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What is the Sandwich Generation? Caring for Children and Older Adults

The “sandwich generation” is the nearly 25% of Americans currently “sandwiched” between a parent who is 65 or older and raising at least one child under 18 or giving financial support to a child older than 18. (Source

As of today, adults in their 40s are most likely to fall into this generation. Roughly 2.5 million of these adults provide care to both an elderly adult and a child at the same time. (Source) This creates problems beyond what normal caregivers experience. In this article, we’ll go through the unique experience of the sandwich generation: what it’s like caring for children and older adults simultaneously. Let’s dive in.

Who is the Sandwich Generation?

As we touched on, the sandwich generation is the group of adults that fall between at least one parent over 65 and a child (either under 18 or financially supporting one over 18). As a parent ages and needs help with the day-to-day activities, many of these adults find themselves falling into the role of family caregiver.

Adults in their 40s are the most likely to fall into this generation – those in their 50s and beyond are less likely to still have children under their roof.

Struggles the Sandwich Generation Faces

When compared to others in their age range, the caregiving sandwich generation displays more signs of financial and emotional instability than their peers. Compared to other family caregivers, on the other hand, they’re also more likely to still need and be responsible for paid employment as well.

In addition to financial and emotional burdens, this puts the sandwich generation at higher risk of:

  • Little to no time to themselves

  • Mental health problems

  • High stress levels

  • Higher anxiety risks

  • Family dynamic responsibilities and struggles

  • Cultural dynamic pressures

Tips to Manage the Financial Struggles

As we touched on, the financial struggles of being sandwiched between care responsibilities are tangible. These include things like helping the older adults with transport and errands, or needing to take time off work. 

All of these seemingly minor adjustments add up. The average family caregiver (i.e., unpaid caregiver for an adult in need) spends over $7,000 a year to support their loved one. (Source) This is a noteworthy amount of the average household income (roughly 10%), making caregiving a significant drain on family resources. (Source)

To manage these expenses, consider:

  • Discussing with your loved one. The loved one in need of care may have financial resources of their own to contribute and reduce the burden on you. This can include anything from savings and retirement accounts, to insurances and assets. Take time to have a conversation about the financial needs you both face.

  • Nonprofits and government resources. There are a lot of resources out there to help you and your loved one – but they’re only available to those who ask. Consider signing up for a free CareNav account to start your research.

How to Manage the Emotional Challenges

The financial struggles are not the only difficulty the sandwich generation faces. They also navigate significant emotional challenges. 

Unpaid family caregivers in the sandwich generation lose at least a half-hour of sleep per night. (Source) Because of this, they’re more likely to develop chronic stress. This can lead to chronic physical and mental illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression.

To manage the emotional challenges, consider:

  • Prioritizing self care. There’s only so much you can give of yourself. Once your tanks (or reserves) are empty, both you and the loved ones in your care will suffer for it. As such, it’s important to remember and prioritize self care. Whether that’s through seeking out respite care support, delegating responsibilities to other loved ones, or allowing yourself to take a vacation, it’s important to give yourself the freedom to take care of you too.

  • Asking for help. A lot of the family caregivers who fall into the sandwich generation feel pressure (either family or cultural) to take everything that’s thrown at you. But you don’t need to do it all alone. There are nonprofit agencies, government programs, and other people in your life who are likely happy to help. There’s nothing wrong with asking for support.

Closing Thoughts on the Sandwich Generation

The sandwich generation faces more pressure than both their fellow caregiver peers, and their own age-group peers (those who don’t need to provide care to older adults). These challenges create emotional and financial struggles – but you don’t have to navigate them alone.

The Caregiver Resource Center of Orange County is here to provide assistance and guidance to help you do that. If you’d like to connect with other caregivers in a similar situation, consider joining our “Sandwich Generation” & Young Caregiver Virtual Support Group. Additionally, you can check out our library of resources to help you navigate this experience. Together, we can navigate the healthcare landscape and help you provide the best possible care for your loved one(s).

Further Reading: Navigating Resentment as a Caregiver

Caregiver resentment is a common emotional challenge that family caregivers face, way more often than they may admit. Especially those sandwiched between caring for adults and children at the same time.

If you feel a sense of resentment, it is natural, but it doesn't have to define your caregiving experience. In the end, finding balance and support is the key to a sustainable and fulfilling caregiving journey. So let’s talk about it: dive in here.


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