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50+: Live Better, Longer

Stuck in the Middle with You

The new rules of the "sandwich generation" can mean making decisions for your aging parents and meeting new demands on your time.
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Family Triage continued...

Friesner recommends that every family caregiver squeeze out a small amount of time for her or himself every day, no matter what. “Whether it’s a bath every night where no one disturbs you, a walk in the morning where you don’t take your cell phone, or even 20 minutes at night on an online support board, you need time for you.”

Find daily activities that can keep seniors busy. Ito’s mother, who is in the early stages of dementia, attends a quilting class, a bowling league, and volunteers at her granddaughter’s school. “There’s a routine, a schedule that she can rely on,” Ito says.

Just as you organize your work, organize the process of caring for your elderly parent. “We may find ourselves bogged down taking our parents to the doctor. As they develop more and more conditions and go to more and more doctors, you’re taking off work every other day,” says Friesner. “Instead, make Wednesday ‘doctor day’: you’ll take off work that day only, and maybe you’ll have time for lunch with your parent as well. Make sure it’s not all responsibility and no relationship.”

The juggling act can be easier if you learn specific skills. “If your parent has Alzheimer’s, go to the Alzheimer’s Association. If your parent has arthritis, go to an arthritis association,” says Bradley Bursack. “These organizations have done so much research, they can teach you the skills you need. It’s not always intuitive -- love and dedication are important, but they may not be enough.” She catalogs a host of resources on her web site at MindingOurElders.com.

Tune in to the Rest of the Family

What about the other half of the sandwich -- your kids and spouse? In all the caregiving for elderly parents, you may worry that you’re neglecting the rest of the family.

“Kids have to be educated the same way as adults do,” says Abaya. “But they understand more and better than we give them credit for.” At one program, Abaya heard from a woman whose 10-year-old daughter was constantly fighting with her grandmother because the grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, would accuse her of stealing clothes.

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