At this time of year, the holidays with their comforting repeated rituals can be bittersweet when our loved ones are not with us to share them. It is even more poignant when aging parents are there physically but not mentally. They may not remember the joy of holidays spent together in the past nor recognize the new members who have joined the family circle. As a Sandwiched Boomer, you may be facing these kinds of holiday celebrations with apprehension.
No doubt, your parents had looked forward their sixties, seventies and eighties as golden years, with the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labors. But what happens when those days become tarnished gold? What if nothing you or your parents do can restore the shine you all were expecting? This is what faces Sandwiched Boomers each year when their parents are diagnosed with Alzheimer's, senile dementia or stroke.
Today, dementia of some kind has affected 14% of Americans over the age of 71 and the incidence is rising. Caring for these seniors generally falls to their Baby Boomer children; studies indicate that one in four families now take care of an elderly parent. Often the caretakers are women. According to a recent AARP study, 8.7 million American women aged 45 and older are caring for both aging parents and growing children. How they, and their brothers in some cases, cope with these demands is of increasing concern.
Now even Hollywood has begun to look at the dilemmas faced by Sandwiched Boomers. With the Academy Awards season right around the corner, the buzz is out about "The Savages," a film looking at Sandwich Generation reactions to an estranged, aging father. Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman play siblings, Wendy and Jon Savage, who can be described as Open Face Sandwiches – suddenly thrust into caring for their abusive father while they deal with on-going crises in their personal and work lives. How they respond, and what they learn about themselves in the process, mirrors the situation for many Baby Boomers.
If, like the Savages, you are propelled into caring for a difficult parent, undoubtedly you will sacrifice many things – time, sleep, emotional stability, money, energy, days at work, dreams of your own. Because of these extreme pressures, family caretakers report having some kind of chronic condition at more than twice the rate of non-caregivers and research suggests that this additional stress can shorten lifespan by up to 10 years.
So what can you do? Stay tuned in for seven tips to reduce your stress and help you get through the holiday season when your parents golden years are tarnished.