Sandwich Generation Faces Massive Stress in Caring for Aging Parents and Kids

Like so many women of her generation, Lerhonda Majied has had to morph into a supermom.

After a full day's work, she tends to her kids, but also to her aging mother, who is blind in one eye and suffering from severe diabetes.

She admits it's tough. "I'm trying to please everybody without killing myself. But I am killing myself."

Majied is not alone. Millions of Americans care for both children and elderly parents, and as the baby boomers age, that number will grow. A new survey shows that this balancing act is taking a bigger toll on women and their families than they might realize.

A study of social workers who work with the "sandwich generation" found that the vast majority of them are ill-prepared for the time, expense and emotional toll of caring for aging parents. What's more, many of the caregivers don't know how to get help.

Filmmaker Julie Winokur and husband Ed moved 3,000 miles from San Francisco to New Jersey to take care of her 83-year-old father, Herbie, who suffered from dementia.

"It's a huge sacrifice at a time in my life that I feel like, it's like a prime time of my life and I basically gave it away," Winokur said.

Help Is Available

Sandwich generation women underestimate the toll caring for an aging relative will take on their health, said Patricia Volland, director of the New York Academy of Medicine's Social Work Leadership Institute.

"It becomes a downward spiral, making them feel like they can't cope and like at the same time they've failed their loved one," Volland said.

Caring for Herbie has been a sobering experience for Julie and Ed.

"I feel pretty tightly wound, like I am going to start having convulsions soon," Julie said.

Herbie lost his battle with dementia in January. Despite the toll on the family, Julie and Ed say they wouldn't have done it any differently.

There's no doubt, though, that caring for a parent and a child is stressful and scary.

"I have a lot of time in my room, staring at the wall," said Majied. "Things have been a little stressful and I don't have anybody that I can really turn to."

By 2020, one in five Americans will be older than 65, so this is a problem that's not going away. The message the National Association of Social Workers is trying to get out is that there is help available.

Visit www.helpstartshere.org to find a social worker who can help caregivers navigate the health-care system, get a nursing aide, do financial planning and even help find transportation for parents.

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