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Big Ten Sandwich Generation Problems

Everyone is different, of course, but certain Big Issues are common to many people trying to support their older relatives. It's not all about dementia or finding a care home. Most older people live in their own homes and do not have dementia.


But that doesn't mean there are not very real issues for the sandwich generation it can be be no picnic. 

  1. Failing. Your parents/older relations are in decline or even free fall. They used to help you, now they need your help. And it’s not just one thing, it’s a thousand. Your life has become intertwined with that of your parents almost imperceptibly. They need you. But do you need this and do you measure up? You will not be doing enough. Get used to it. 


  2. What?  You have no idea what to do or how to help. You don’t know about health, housing, benefits, dementia or any of the other massive ageing issues. No sooner do you help with one problem, another one appears. Cut one snake’s head off, and two others sprout. Your parents are having problems on so many fronts, it’s impossible to keep up. If only something were going right. 


  3. Stress. It’s a drain trying to help and there is no one to talk to. You may be wracked with guilt, trying to repay the care they gave you – or didn’t – but the burden seems to be yours alone. There may be a lot on the news about a crisis in social care, but parent problems are not fashionable or interesting. Your friends' parents are providing child care or visiting Machu Pichu. No one wants to talk about incontinence. No one understands why you feel so emotionally drained. Powers of Attorney sound too Radio 4 and care homes too miserable. 


  4. Family. There’s nothing like problems for bringing the worst out in people. As though you haven’t got enough to do, your family can add to the problems. Either, they won’t help or they take initiatives, without telling you, leaving you to pick up the pieces. They may disagree with what you’re doing. They may think you’re not doing enough. Any suggestion from you, however, that they should do something will be unwelcome. They have their own lives - they will tell you. But they will always be your parents’ favourite and they, not you, will get the family silver.  


  5. Not waving, but drowning. The thing about elder problems is that they come in various unpleasant stages and sometimes it isn’t obvious until they are drowning. Ill health, driving or gardening, difficulties carrying out everyday household tasks and then problems caring for themselves. It’s awful and unhappy. But it doesn’t happen to everyone. These steps can be concertinaed or they can happen altogether. The first signs of ill health, may happen years before someone finally cannot manage at home anymore. Or it may happen overnight.  Truth is, many older people are good at covering up. Putting off the evil day of ‘defeat’, though, can make it so much more evil. 


  6. A Fate worse than Death. Possibly the most difficult problem is finding decent care or, even more unlikely, finding a decent care home. Few older people want the loss of independence – why would they? Few adult children want to put their parent in a care home or leave them in the hands of a strange carer. If you didn’t feel guilty before, welcome to the guilt trip of a lifetime. Just roll these words around your head: putting your mother in a care home. You know what these places are like and so does she. 


  7. Health. You may have spent very little time in hospitals or at doctors’ surgeries, now you’re going to make up for that. Older people spend considerable periods visiting medics and having surprisingly unpleasant tests. There is hospital transport to take them. But this is awful and time consuming and no substitute for having a relative with them. They need support, so get used to it. 


  8. Dementia. If you read the papers, every person over the age of 80 suffers from dementia.  But not even a majority of older people have it. And those who are unlucky enough to develop dementia may take years before they are incapacitated. For a member of the family, it can seem worse. But it is much worse for the demented person - however upset you are. People use dementia as an excuse not to visit older relations because they ‘won’t recognise me’. Maybe not. But ignoring them isn't the answer. 


  9. Fear. The biggest problem of all. Maybe it should be top of the list. It isn’t because, it is often only after you have been overwhelmed by submerged problems for a long time, do you realise what is going on. Many older people struggle for years to maintain their lives as they were before they became old. And their families allow them to do it, because no one wants anything to change. So we all pretend everything is all right – until we are forced to admit it is not. We are left with few options and unpleasant choices. Trying to keep the show on the road is the cause of much of the stress around older relations. In any other situation, you plan and anticipate. You do not leave it until the ceiling collapses before mending the roof.  Why approach old age issues in this way? 



  10. Loneliness. The most pernicious, stealthy and potentially destructive issue is loneliness. Many of the other problems stem from this. People who are lonely are more likely to become ill, fearful, suffer mental problems and become a worry - or a 'problem' - for their loved ones.  Loneliness is not just confined to older people but they can be captive prisoners of it. It is shameful to note that the incidence of suicide among the over 80s is increasing around the world.

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