Where can you go for help?
The Council on Aging of Central Oregon offers a variety of services for families. One service is the Caregiver Support Program, which provides relief services to caregivers. The office also provides a one-stop shop for information and referral to other agencies and community services. For more information, call 541-678-5483 or go to www.councilonaging.org/services.
Who is in the ‘sandwich generation?’
That term comprises people who are mostly middle-aged; 71 percent are ages 40 to 59. About 1 in 7 middle-aged adults, or about 15 percent, provide financial support to both an aging parent and a child. Hispanics are more likely than whites or blacks to be in that situation. Three in 10 Hispanic adults (31 percent) have a parent age 65 or older and a dependent child. That compares with 24 percent of whites and 21 percent of blacks.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2017 Facts and Figures report, 83 percent of the help provided to older adults in the United States comes from family members, friends or other unpaid caregivers.
Source: Pew Research Center 2013 study
With three grown children and an 88-year-old mother whom she cares for in her home, Bend resident Anne Burks is among a growing group of adults in Central Oregon in the so-called “sandwich generation.”
She’s caring for her mother and still providing some financial muscle for the youngest of her three grown children. But more than that, Burks represents one of the nearly three-quarters of Americans who have provided at least some financial support to an adult child while caring for a parent, according to the Pew Research Center survey.
“My mom is still relatively in good physical shape; it’s just her mind that is broken,” said 62-year-old Burks. “My children and me look familiar to her, but she doesn’t recognize them. She confuses my sisters for her sisters.”
Trying to find help and access to services can be challenging as that need continues to grow in a county of more than 3,000 square miles. That’s where the Council on Aging of Central Oregon tries to help: connecting those in need to available social services or to firms that offer respite care.
Many seniors and their caregivers call with questions that run the gamut from needing help navigating medical insurance policies to basic needs. They’re trying to figure out how to get help with daily necessities in their homes. They ask: Is there any respite care for caregivers? Can I get bus fare?
It’s a deluge of calls handled by 17 staffers and 415 volunteers. They handle everything from home visits to cooking — and delivering — Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit that serves Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties.
The elderly population is growing in Central Oregon, said Susan Rotella, the Council on Aging of Central Oregon’s executive director.
About 19 percent of the county’s population is 65 or older, a 5 percent increase over 2010, Rotella said. By 2030, nearly a quarter of the population will be 65 plus, according to the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.
In Redmond and Prineville, the percentage of seniors is even higher because the cost of living is more affordable than in Bend, Rotella said, which means the demand for services is higher. Sometimes providing those services can be quite a challenge, particularly for those seniors living alone in far-flung places, she said.
“We have an army that does many tasks,” Rotella said. “In the winter, it takes an effort on the part of our Meals on Wheels drivers to deliver to our clients who live off the grid.”
Rotella added, “It’s becoming a huge problem because more baby boomers’ parents are not prepared financially to move into a community or are living longer and their money doesn’t go as far. If they cannot financially afford to live in a community, they frequently move in with their children, who are still raising their own children. They’re so stretched from being pulled on both sides — financially as well as emotionally.”
That’s what happened to Karen Shollenburg. She now works as a client care coordinator for a private caregiving firm in Central Oregon, Home Instead. Shollenburg gave up her life in Washington, returned to Prineville and cared for her mother for three years until she died.
“I came back home to help my sister care for my mom,” she said.
Her siblings were all taking care of their own children; hers were grown, so she was the natural choice to help her mother, she recalled.
“She had strokes, and it turned out she had cancer,” Shollenburg said. “She was 84 when she passed away in 2007.”
Shollenburg didn’t have her children living with her while she cared for her mother, but she made sacrifices.
She joins Burks in the growing group of people who are supporting a child and a parent, either financially, physically or emotionally. For more than a third, it’s emotional support, according to a Pew study.
Professor Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University, said what is happening is society is moving away from the nuclear family — two parents and their children in a household — and more toward multigenerational living. Some of it is because of the 2008 economic recession, which wiped out savings accounts and sent the children of many Generation Xers — those born between 1965 and 1984 — running home, Aldwin says.
“People are having kids later, and we’re living longer, and therefore the care is having to go both ways,” she said.
But that could turn out to be a good thing, as studies have shown that intergenerational living benefits the old and the young.
“The generational support flows both ways,” she said.
It’s just that kind of interaction that the providers at a Redmond child care center and memory care facility strive for, said Stephanie Roderick, Thelma’s Place and Whoopsy Daisy Child Care Center executive director. Every day Roderick sees the push and pull caused by the diverse needs of children and grandparents and parents. It is especially acute when the caregiver falls ill, she said.
“We are lucky to have this partnership that allows us the ability to assist in improving our families and the community with support,” Roderick said.
Need is huge
In the 1900s people lived about 47 years. In the 2000s, people are living past their 70s. Sometimes that longer life means people run out of money and are forced to find creative ways to live out their golden years, said Wes Vaughan, a Council on Aging of Central Oregon case manager.
“Family caregivers can have a tough time if the people they’re trying to care for have cognitive issues,” Vaughan says. “Burnout is real.
“For people living in rural areas it can be the most difficult, because they have to anticipate issues, and if they’re impaired already, it’s almost impossible,” he says.
Transportation, mobility and finding quality, affordable caregivers are all issues facing those who care for aging parents. Agencies like the Council on Aging of Central Oregon can help navigate a complicated medical system, but nothing prepares caregivers for the mental, emotional and financial exhaustion of caring for both children and elderly, he said.
It was more than five years ago when Burks’ mom moved in with her. At the time when it became obvious that the trips, the falls and forgetfulness were increasing, Burks and her sisters took over the decision-making and brought their mom up to Burks’ home in Bend.
Burks has three grown children who are mostly independent; she said they worry about her and whether she has enough time for herself.
The change from Burks living alone with three grown children to becoming a full-time caregiver also meant she had to refinance her home to pay off her children’s college loans.
The biggest challenge, Burks said, is maintaining a balance of full-time caregiver and finding time for herself. She is fortunate her mother can afford to pay for a private respite caregiver to come in three times each week to spell her. During those days, she does errands, goes for walks or gets her hair done.
“The biggest part I struggle with is having a life,” she said. “I have to change that. My mom became my job. I can’t leave my mom by herself.”
Once Burks came home to find the house smelling of cleaning disinfectant. Her mother had decided to wash her clothes with Pine-Sol, she said.
“Each day I find a new normal,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard not to lose your patience. My children worry about me.”
Burks has some tips for others going through the same situation: Hire an elder lawyer to sort through all the financial details like shifting assets.
Also, come up with a caregiver agreement and seek respite assistance whenever possible.
“Don’t wait too long to set up these systems,” Burks said. “Get help tapping into the services. There are people who can help.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2117, firstname.lastname@example.org