In the 1970s, there were ongoing debates about whether a woman could balance a family with a career. The discussions centered on being a good wife, mother and employee. The question seldom posed, in those days, was how, besides being a wife, mother and career woman, could a woman also be a good daughter?
Today, we hear about the toll elder care takes on families as routinely as we heard the former arguments in the '70s. Adult children are being faced with choices (or seemingly, assignments) they never thought about before. They are raising children or teenagers and holding down a job, when suddenly they find that their aging parents need an ever-increasing amount of attention.
Why is elder care more of an issue now than in the past? For one thing, people are living longer than they used to and, often, they are not living with good health. Yes, we all love to point to the 93-year-old guy out there playing golf everyday, and these people exist. I know a couple of elders like that and they are a joy to behold.
However, many elders today are stroke survivors, or are suffering from diabetes, lung problems or dementia. Sometimes they have a combination of these ailments, and others, which likely would have caused death even a decade ago. Now, medical advances provide lifesaving options. Many of these people live – some even living fairly good quality lives – but they need assistance from family or paid attendants.
Another piece of the puzzle is that many people have chosen to have children at a later age, thus putting them in a position where they have young children and older parents at the same time. This can be a delightful combination, as long as the elders are reasonably healthy, but when they are not, the adult children of the elders, also parents of young children, can be faced with very difficult choices. These are the people now famously known as the Sandwich Generation.
Whatever the circumstances are that propel people into elder care, the problems that can come from it are myriad. All you have to do is visit the AgingCare.com online caregiver support forums and you'll quickly see that many caregivers, both men and women, find themselves feeling pulled in so many directions that they can no longer find their soul.
They fear for their own health – mental and physical – as they try to take care of the needs of three generations, the most demanding often being the elders. Caregiving for a sick elder, especially one with dementia, can become so all-consuming that the caregiver's other relationships suffer.