How to Care for Aging Parents: Strategies for the Sandwich Generation

Juggling work, kids, and the well-being of their own parents, those in the Sandwich Generation certainly don’t have it easy. Here are tips on how to care for aging parents, even from a distance.

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The burden of the sandwich generation

Mom hurt her foot. That’s the only detail you can coax out of her over the phone, which right now makes the distance between the two of you feel that much further. She’s limping and doesn’t want to go to a doctor. Instead, she wants you to look at it, ignoring the fact that you have a full-time job, two kids and, oh yeah, you live three hours away. Sound familiar? Managing the aging parents in your life, whether it’s helping them through their health problems or clearing up insurance issues, is the burden of the sandwich generation.

So how can you care for aging parents when you’re far from home and juggling the responsibility of raising your own family? Here are some strategies from professional caregivers that can help you to help them—even if you live on opposite sides of the country.

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Make a plan for senior care before it becomes an issue

“The older generation can be secretive, but the sandwich generation is more open and aware that communication is important,” says Karen Seebach, a nurse advisor with Elizz, a Canadian caregiver support service. “You need to have a conversation in advance about what they would like to do as they age. Do they want to stay in their home? Does someone have power of attorney? These conversations are very important to start early on.”

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Caring for aging parents - assisting senior using walker
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Read between the lines

Dad says he’s fine on the phone, but you suspect he’s not taking his medications. The litmus test?  Look for a change in the way he communicates. “If a parent is usually chatty and has become quieter, that’s something you need to pay attention to,” says Luanne Whitmarsh, chief executive officer of the Kerby Centre, a Calgary-based organization assisting seniors. Inconsistent communication from your aging parent is a red flag that warrants deeper investigation.

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Caring for aging parents - hugging elderly woman
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Create a support network for your aging parents

You might be tempted to take the day off work to check out that sore foot your mom was complaining about—and you’re not alone. A Statistics Canada report noted that 40 per cent of caregivers who lived more than a half day’s travel away from their ill parent missed full days of work to help provide care. Instead, get to know the people who interact with your aging parents day to day. “Become familiar with the neighbours or a house cleaner or something like that,” suggests Whitmarsh. “This way, they can give you the real information you may not be getting.”

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Caring for aging parents - woman with her aging mother
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Research senior outreach services

“The more isolated a senior becomes, the more risk there is,” says Joanne Toller, senior fund developer with the Calgary Seniors Resource Society. She suggests doing homework on behalf of your aging parents to find outreach services in their area. Start by calling 211, and reach out to a local seniors organizations that can provide referrals to services that can help seniors with day-to-day tasks. These might include driving services (such as Driving Miss Daisy), foot care clinics (look for brochures at doctor’s offices and walk-in clinics) and meal delivery services, like Meals on Wheels. More support can be found by making inquiries with the local municipal government, service clubs and churches.

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Speak with your own doctor

Mom’s sounding much more confused lately and you’re worried about dementia. You could call your mom’s physician to discuss the issue, or, as Whitmarsh suggests, you could express your concerns to your own doctor, with whom you already have a relationship. Explain what you’ve observed and share the contact information for your mother’s doctor. “Doctor to doctor, they have a way better way of communicating and have a given level of trust,” Whitmarsh says.

Next, learn how to spot the early signs of dementia.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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