Managing in the Middle: Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others

It is estimated that some 26 million people caring for others hold jobs and have children under the age of 18. Aptly named the “Sandwich Generation,” those ages 35-54 feel squeezed by caring for aging parents while raising their own families. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that between 2000 and 2030, the population of people age 65 and older will more than double and those 85 and older will increase by 126% during that same time period. Because of this caring for this aging population has become a major public health issue.

Clinical observation and empirical research show that the care giving can be stressful and burdensome. In fact, the experience of care giving can have all the features of a chronic stress experience. So, how do we care for our aging or ill family members without becoming debilitated ourselves? How do we avoid significant or long-term consequences to our own wellbeing while providing care?

Symptoms of chronic stress can be identified early and remediated before they have a chance of producing negative long term consequence on psychological or physical health. Mental health professionals are experts who can help those suffering from chronic stress and depression due to these care taking roles. These helping professionals can assess a family’s current level of functioning and develop problem solving, organizational and communication strategies to help them cope with the intrinsic demands of illness and aging, while providing them with necessary resources and support. Therapists can assist these “care taking” individuals to acquire the knowledge and skills they need, maximize the quality of the care they provide, and assist them in maintaining their own health and wellbeing.

Heidi B. Roeder, MS, LPC, LMFT was a former therapist at Franco Psychological Associates, P.C.