News | Published January 17, 2005 | Written by Elana K. Thompson, MS, CCC-SLP

Caring For Multiple Generations of Family Members Has Created A New "Sandwich Generation"

We are all fortunate to be living in a time when medical marvels occur every day. These marvels can save our youngest children and also our oldest adults.

People are surviving strokes, heart attack and disease in record numbers. And while this is most often a blessing, it has created a large new group in our society that is responsible for caring for multiple generations of family members at the same time. This group is often referred to as “The Sandwich Generation.”

There are three general “sandwiches” on the menu of caregivers who are part of “The Sandwich Generation,” according to an article in Stroke Connection Magazine. Those groups can be characterized as:

  • The Traditional Sandwich: These caregivers are sandwiched between aging parents who need care or help and their own children.
  • The Club Sandwich: These caregivers are generally in their 50’s or 60’s, sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren. Those in their 30’s and 40’s with young children, aging parents and grandparents also fit this category.
  • Open-Faced Sandwich: These caregivers comprise all others involved in eldercare.

Even under the best of circumstances, taking on the responsibility of managing a multi-generational family is a tremendous undertaking. The stress can affect marriages, careers, finances — almost all aspects of our lives.

So how do we handle this? Experts at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln) suggest successful sandwich-life living requires negotiation among each generation’s needs, including your own. This may be accomplished by considering some of these “solutions”:

  1. Clarify the House Rules: In cases of multi-generational living in the same home, schedules and clearly defined responsibilities can help. Make sure that those living under your roof understand that your values are those by which all are expected to abide.
  2. Weekly Family Meetings: Even if multiple generations are not living under the same roof, weekly meetings involving all local family working together to care for a multi-generational family can be beneficial in helping with problem-solving and providing encouragement.
  3. Prepare a Long-Range Financial Plan: Detailed plans and record-keeping give a better sense of control which will, in turn, decrease stress.
  4. Utilize Community Programs and Services: Use the Internet and/or contact your local and state agency on aging to find out what resources may be available in your community.
  5. Agree on a Target Date for Departure of Young Adults: Have a plan in place indicating when young adults are expected to leave home and begin living independently. Even if the plan has to change, there will be parameters established from which to work.
  6. Respect One Another’s Privacy: All generations need to have some aspect of their lives that is their own. Personal boundaries and personal space must be defined and respected.
  7. Take Care of Your Own Family, Your Marriage, and especially, Take Care of Yourself: If stress and feelings of being overwhelmed are allowed to cause you to “burn out,” you end up doing a great disservice to yourself and your family. High degrees of stress make people less effective and less efficient. Remember to utilize all of your family and community resources to get the help you may need.

For more information on this topic, please consider investigating the following resources:

  • The National Family Caregivers Alliance at 1-800-896-3650 or www.nfcacares.org
  • American Stroke Association at 1-888-4-STROKE or www.strokeassociation.org
  • Centre County Office of Aging at 1-800-479-0050
  • Your healthcare and therapeutic services providers

Elana K. Thompson, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

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