"Sandwich generation" juggles needs of kids and aging parents


Working full time as a single parent and raising a family is no easy task, but add the duties of caring for an elderly parent, and the stress level explodes.

Just ask Kathryn Hopkins, 56. She has a daughter at home and is helping her mother who recently had a stroke. "It's a juggling act," Hopkins said. "I make lists."

Such a dual identity is common for people Hopkins' age. She's part of what's called the 'sandwich generation," a group of 20 million or so middle-aged Americans stuck between two conflicting sets of responsibilities. On one side is the role of mother or father caring for a family; the other as son or daughter caring for an elderly parent.

For many, it's an emotional and logistical tug of war. Health care professionals know all about it.

"We see a good amount of people in the sandwich generation," said Nancy Vetter, director of social services at Anderson Hospital in Maryville, Ill. "We see a lot of people exhausted and at the end of their rope."

But as more and more join the ranks of the sandwich generation -- after all, many are baby boomers -- some groups are stepping up to offer help.

Hopkins' mother, for example, receives speech, occupational and physical therapy covered by Medicaid.

Home Instead Senior Care performs duties such as laundry and light housekeeping. The franchise (www.homeinstead.com) provides services across the U.S. Another agency that provides such help is Visiting Angels (www.visitingangels.com).

Costs for those home care services, however, are not covered by Medicaid.

"It's roughly $700 a week," Hopkins said about the services she receives. That's the rough cost for 40 hours a week. Her mother is paying the bill through her savings.

Vetter, of Anderson Hospital, said the cost for such in-home service can range from $17 to $22 per hour. Those costs could increase if more medical care is needed. Melissa Straube, community outreach director for the Home Instead office in Collinsville, Ill., said ballpark figures for assisted care living runs about $37,000 a year and the average yearly cost of a nursing home is $80,000.

Some free services are available. Faith In Action organizations  (www.fianationalnetwork.org) can provide rides to doctor's appointments and other duties. In some instances, it can provide free medical equipment.


Karen Carter has three teenage sons and her mother has Alzheimer's disease.

"Each day is different," said Carter, 48. "Typically we give her her medicine and make sure she is eating."

Carter is helped by her brother, Don Brown, 52. Brown bought a house across the street and takes care of their 87-year-old mother in the evening when he's not working.

But sometimes additional assistance is needed.

"Every caregiver needs a break," said Area Agency on Aging of Southwestern Illinois Executive Director Joy Paethe. Its network of providers can put people in touch with agencies that can provide monetary help. The Illinois Older Americans Act provides a $100 stipend a month for those who qualify, such as people providing around the clock care for their elderly parents, Paethe said. In some cases, people may qualify for Medicaid stipends to help pay for nursing home care.

Carter and Hopkins have their own strategy in dealing with the day to day stresses of caring for their elderly parents. "I'm a positive person and I think if you can see the world positively, it helps you maintain your health," Carter said. "We do it all ourselves. In the years ahead we will have to consider other options." Hopkins said taking care of her mother is just another part of life. "You still have your daily routine," Hopkins said. "I just accept that. I'm more of a cup-is-half-full person."

By Ken West

St. Louis Post Dispatch


77.6 million: Number of baby boomers

61 percent: Amount of over-the-counter medications purchased

77 percent: Amount of all prescription drugs purchased

80 percent: Amount of leisure travel money

8.5 seconds: How often a baby boomer turns 50 in the U.S.

SOURCE: boomersweb.net

Last modified: May 27, 2011
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