The Sandwich Generation

This article was published in The West End Times July 23, 2011.

We’ve all seen the TV commercials that play on the great family age gaps. The grandparents are a twinkly eyed, white-haired couple, about 75 to 80 years old. Grandma looks as though she spent the day baking cookies. The grandchildren are kindergarten age or grade 1 at most, helping out with the icing, smiling. That’s the TV version of grandparents and grandchildren with the gap in age being 70 years.

The facts in reality are very different. Today’s grandparents of five and six year olds are probably in their 50’s and possibly in their 40’s…. The “Boomers

Many Boomers are what is known as the “sandwich generation,” wherein they are taking care of their children and their elderly parents. Indeed, a not-insignificant number of these Boomers are what could be called the “triple-decker sandwich generation” — taking care of their grandchildren and their elderly parents…. Their life can be particularly stressful and hectic.

Almost 3 in 10 of those aged 45 to 64 with unmarried children under 25 in the home, or some 712,000 individuals, are also caring for a senior.

More than 8 in 10 of these sandwiched individuals work, causing some to reduce or shift their hours or to lose income.

Indeed, caring for an elderly person could lead to a change in work hours, refusal of a job offer, or a reduction in income. Some 15% of sandwiched workers have to reduce their hours, 20% have to change their schedules and 10% lose income.

Also, 4 in 10 sandwiched workers incur extra expenses such as renting medical equipment or purchasing cell phones.

Women were more likely than men to be sandwiched. On average, women spend 29 hours a month providing care to seniors, more than twice as many as the 13 hours spent by their male counterparts. The extra hours for women may be due in part to the type of care performed. For example, outside home maintenance and transportation assistance were most often done by men. Women were more likely to provide personal care such as bathing, dressing or feeding, and in-home care such as food preparation and clean up.

As a result of the aging of the baby boomers, lower fertility rates and the delay in starting families, older family members will require care when children are still part of the household. Projections show that by 2056, the proportion of Canadians age 65 or older will more than double, to over one in four; similarly, the proportion of people 80 and over will triple to about one in 10, says the study, taken from figures compiled during the 2007 General Social Survey (GSS) on Family, Social Support and Retirement.

The survey, which interviewed 23,000 Canadians age 45 and older, also found the population of seniors surpassed 4.3 million in 2006, up 11.5 per cent from 2001. As we age it is apparent that the government cannot keep up with the needs of our seniors and the demands of care are falling to the family. Many ageing people don’t have any family close by or any family – who are available, willing or able to assist with their care. For those whose families are able to assist them, caregiver burnout is a major issue. Balancing care giving and work responsibilities is a juggle at best and besides the financial, and emotional cost of care giving there is, for many, a loss of productivity when trying to juggle all responsibilities. Retirement savings for many have been negatively impacted with recent economic events and this too gravely impacts on both caregivers and the care recipients.

Regardless what generation you belong to….we all have a responsibility to the most vulnerable in our society, the old, children and the ill. One sign of the health of our society is how well we do this. So far not too well! Do we have a plan? We can not continue with “same old” “same old.” I know I often rant about our health care or sick care system. Health care has to include concerns about societal health. How long can we leave this to chance?