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How a ‘sandwich generation’ is caring for young children and ill, aging parents

People who find themselves caring for children under the age of 15 and aging, ill parents are being dubbed the ‘sandwich generation,’ says the head of a Toronto health foundation, and they’re at risk of burning out.

The ‘sandwich generation’ is burning the candle at both ends, managing the stress of navigating the health system with the changing needs of an aging parent and keeping an eye on the their young children, the Kensington Health Foundation’s Corinne Rusch-Drutz says.

“If something serious happens, how to get help for [a senior parent], really is one of the perpetual burdens that this generation faces along with the increased supports that they require for illness.”

Accessing medication, specialists’ visits, easing into programs and learning more about a parent’s condition are stressors Rusch-Drutz told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.

“There are some very complicated requirements as it relates to a health-care need and those become far more complex as an individual gets along their health journey,” she said.

According to Rusch-Drutz, individuals need to ensure supports for their parents are in place because learning on the job with illness is different from learning on the job with kids.

“Figuring out how to navigate that for an individual, you really also need to take care of yourself and that’s where that sweet spot lies,” said Rusch-Drutz.

She said Kensington Health Foundation aims to help ‘sandwiched’ individuals–typically women aged 45 and older, who are primary caregivers at the beginning and end of life–with a range of support resources from the caregiver to the loved one in care.

A 2019 Angus Reid study found that nearly 28 per cent of, or 3 in 10 Canadians, in their 40s and 50s currently act as caregivers and 4 in 10 anticipate they will become one in the future.

Forty-two per cent of Canadian parents, between the ages 40 and 59, also have children under 15, according to the study.

And 52 per cent of those who say they are caregivers attend to a parent or in-law—the most common caregiving relationship outlined the study.

The study found that 1 in 10 Canadians expects to provide care for someone in the next five years, with 15 per cent expecting their caregiving role to start within five to 10 years, pointing to an increase in Canadian caregivers and those needing care in the next decade.

The study also found that 47 per cent of those currently providing care say they’re making real sacrifices to balance caregiving needs and daily activities.

“It’s really important to understand that caregivers also need care,” said Rusch-Drutz.

Kensington Health Foundation offers a ‘Second Mile’ program that gives caregiving to caregivers because of burnout and stress, according to Rusch-Drutz.

She said people can try to recognize “that you can’t do it all yourself. If you have that network that’s really important, especially with family, not being a superhero.”

People can also use their employee assistance program (EAPs) to see what their employer may offer and get time off from work to support family needs, she said.

“The most important thing is to not try and have a perfect work-life balance,” said Rusch-Drutz. “It doesn’t really exist.” 

To watch the full interview, click the video at the top of this article.

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