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Sandwich Caring – Looking after the Youngest and Oldest in Your Family

Three generations all needing support

With a population living longer than ever before and more people starting their families later in life, there is a growing and often silent group of people who are becoming what is known as ‘Sandwich Carers’.

Chances are ‘Sandwich Carer’ is a term you have possibly never heard of, but it perfectly illustrates the lives many people in their 40’s and 50’s are leading as they juggle caring responsibilities at both ends of the life course.

These individuals are the filling in a sandwich of caring that pulls them in numerous different directions, from the school run to attending hospital appointments with ageing parents or grandparents.

The challenges of caring at both end of the life course

The difficulties associated with singular caring responsibilities are well-documented. Multiple caring responsibilities are so much more than the multitasking exercise they are often dismissed as.

“Sandwich carers tell me they feel stressed and exhausted, frequently unwell, and dismiss their own wellbeing as something they feel they may never get back”

The deluge of information myself and my partner were provided with when we had our daughter is testimony to the life-change that starting a family brings, while from my own personal experience of my dad’s 19 years with vascular dementia, I know only too well how caring for a parent with a long-term and ultimately terminal condition turns your world upside down. I struggle to comprehend how you would manage to do both, simultaneously.”

"Sandwich carers tell me they feel stressed and exhausted, frequently unwell, and dismiss their own wellbeing as something they feel they may never get back"

What about your career?

With the drive to encourage parents to go back to work after having children, sandwich carers struggle more than most parents to maintain their employment status.

Employees who meet the criteria can ask their employer for flexible working, but there is no guarantee of getting it. If you don’t meet the criteria, or you’re self-employed, you may feel extremely isolated in the workplace.

Coping with distance

To add insult to injury, many sandwich carers are also distance carers, torn between their life with their children at home and the needs of ageing parents or grandparents who are potentially miles, or even continents, away. With few modern multigenerational housing options, hopes of trying to marry up the two are usually futile.

How can you help yourself?

Identification - First and foremost, identifying yourself as a carer is vital. Carers are entitled to assessments under the Care Act, and telling your GP about your caring responsibilities will help your doctor to support your health in challenging times.

Family and friends - If other people in your life can assist with caring responsibilities for older or younger members of the family, that may help to relieve some of the pressure you are feeling.

Employment - Although employers aren’t legally obliged to give you flexible working conditions (only to consider your request), many employers may be prepared to be flexible if they understand the challenges you are facing, while some employers may have their own employee assistance schemes. Do your research to find out what is available.

Schools - If your child/children’s school(s) know you have caring responsibilities for older relatives, they may be able to offer additional support to you and to your child/children. There may also be learning opportunities for your child/children’s school(s) in the form of initiatives like Dementia Friends.

Technology - There are some great technology solutions to help support older people to remain independent and manage their day-to-day health. Many of these can link to your device(s) so you can monitor the health and wellbeing of your loved ones.

Legalities - If you are caring for ageing parents or grandparents, discuss Power of Attorney and Advance Care Planning with them to ensure their wishes are documented and you are able to fully advocate for them.

The Future - Be realistic in your expectations of yourself. Evaluate what you can take on, particularly if your children have their own health needs, you caring from a distance for older loved ones, or your parent/grandparent is living with dementia.

Having conversations about what the future might hold and making plans is much easier in a non-crisis situation. Consider all long-term care options, including live-in care. It can be a huge relief for a long-term sandwich carer to know that a qualified professional care worker is living with their older loved one, and helping to keep everyone in touch and reassured.

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