If you are a woman in your late forties to early fifties, chances are you may have kids who are dependent on you for something, even if they are not living with you. To add to the mix, you or your partner’s parents may be moving into the stage of older age, perhaps also needing some assistance, or just a bit more of a watchful eye. Depending on their overall health, a sudden crisis may be just around the corner that will require you to become involved in the situation. The truth is, with two generations depending on you for care and, possibly, financial help… you are a member of the Sandwich Generation!
As luck would have it, with menopause spanning the ages of 45 to 55, and the average female caregiver being about 49-years-old, we are now seeing the phenomena of caregiving and “The Change” converging at an increased rate. Blame these overlapping life passages on good healthcare and longevity. You wouldn’t find this happening long ago. In ancient times, life expectancy at birth was 25-years-old. In the USA in 1800, it was 40-years-old. A woman may not have lived long enough to experience menopause, and her parents would have pre-deceased her many years before. So, her only caregiving requirements would be for her children and spouse—there would be no Sandwich Generation and little menopausal activity during those eras. And even if there were, household sharing among generations would have provided built-in support for each other, much more than they do now. Also, many of the current Sandwich Generation caregiving problems arise from its members’ isolation and distance from family due to career and other demnds.
Sorry ladies, if you are of a certain age, it’s in the cards: just as the stars align in the sky, you’re most probably going to enter menopause at the same time you begin caregiving a parent, and possibly at the same time you might be caring for children too. All is not lost though. Knowing when your mother reached menopause can give you a clue as to when you will too, especially if her sisters and her mother (your grandmother) all reached it at the same time. Trying to anticipate when you can expect to enter menopause and preparing yourself for some typical symptoms—such as irregular periods and spotting, hot flashes, night sweats, and irritability—can help a great deal.
Also perimenopause (the transitional time around menopause) can cause very uncomfortable symptoms for some because of changing hormones, and it can begin years before your last menstrual period. Thus you might experience this before entering your Sandwich years, but you can at least anticipate it.
Prepare Your Mind for a Confluence of Feelings
Caregiving and Menopause = Similar Feelings of Loss
As your parents need more help with basic household chores or start to lose their hearing, sight or memory, you may be hit with a “reality check” that they are growing older. They may appear frailer and not rebound as quickly from an illness … and that can cause an adult child to feel sad. At that same time, if you are entering menopause, you may feel that you are losing your youth, your fertility and your ability to have children. These are all feelings of loss that can occur during menopause and can have a very strong and lasting impact on a woman’s overall health and well-being. Sharon Dornberg-Lee, Clinical Supervisor of CJE SeniorLife Counseling Services, notes “Simultaneous work, caregiving and child-rearing demands leave many women feeling exhausted and with little time or energy to devote to self-care. It is important for women not to lose sight of their physical and emotional needs during midlife. This may mean getting supportive counseling to address issues relating to changing self-image, one’s own aging and caregiving stress, as well as getting medical advice on coping with symptoms of perimenopause or menopause. Simply taking a few minutes a day for respite, a mindfulness practice, walking or other self-care activities can make a big difference.”
Caregiving and Menopause = Similar Feelings of Anger
Anger bubbles to the surface when you are caregiving day in and day out. Maybe you are asked a few too many times to fetch something after you have just settled into a chair after a long day of caring for someone else.
Maybe your partner could pitch in a little more. You feel put upon by all the demands on your time. Irritability and discontent arise out of losing control of your life and your body. You are losing a function of your body—your ovaries are basically shutting down and the physical symptoms make you feel angry, tired and depleted.
Caregiving and Menopause = Similar Feelings of Stress
Caregiving, especially the Sandwich variety, can cause stress, stress and more stress. Menopausal stress adds to the caregiver stress, creating a vicious cycle. Problems can spiral as stress also affects clear thinking. For example, a prescription may need filling, but when you think to renew it, the doctor is out of town. Or your child forgot to bring his assignment to school, but he calls you while you’re in a hospital waiting room with your mom. Or you forgot to cancel an appointment for your dad, and there’s a $150 charge for a “no-show.” These issues snowball and stretch you in multiple directions, so that you have no time to think through solutions or call a friend for support. This extreme stress exacerbates menopause symptoms to the point where it can really hurt your health and interfere with your ability to care for your parent or your children.
Besides increased stress, caregiving and menopause can also cause insomnia, weight gain, fatigue, anxiety and depression. That’s quite a list of serious symptoms and some remedies are definitely in order.
Ways to Soothe Your Body
Take Some “Me” Time
The first thing you can do—and all the other suggestions follow this one—is to take time for yourself … even when you think there isn’t any to take. You MUST tear yourself away. Tell yourself that your kids need to learn how to figure certain things out for themselves; that they need to start taking responsibility for their own choices. You must have room to breathe or you will be too drained to cope with the challenges of caregiving.
Take a Long Soaking Bath
This is not an indulgence, this is a requirement. A long bath combats the emotional stress of caregiving and can be very calming. Add Epsom salts to the bath water. When soaking in Epsom salts, the bath can combat fluctuating hormones that cause hot flashes. Because menopause prohibits the body from completing the body’s natural detoxification cycle (this can cause heart disease and weight gain) taking a bath with Epsom salts helps remove the toxins in the body.
Drink Lots of Water
Staying hydrated is important for caregivers because it can help them avoid headaches and irritability. Also sipping cold water can help alleviate hot flashes. Common wisdom recommends drinking half of your body weight in ounces a day, i.e., if you weigh 120 pounds, drink 60 oz of water.
There’s a Strong Interrelationship Between Weight Gain and Lack of Sleep
Weight gain and lack of sleep have been studied a lot in terms of caregiving and menopause. Because of an inability to focus on themselves (for example, getting enough exercise) caregivers can struggle with their weight. It has been shown that 30 minutes of movement a day (including gardening, cleaning or walking) can help you get seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, which in turn can help prevent weight gain.
Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends
Another big factor that has an impact on caregiver outlook and mood is spending time socializing with friends. It doesn’t have to be friends going through the same thing you are, but it can help to have someone with whom to empathize and commiserate. Also, sharing caregiving duties is a possibility. Whatever support can be garnered, grab it! Don’t forget the love and support that might be available from family members, including siblings and cousins, second-cousins, aunts, uncles, step-brothers, and step-sisters … you get the picture.
Menopause … Not All Bad?
We’ve heard all the negatives, but on the other side of the coin, there are some women who have been lucky enough to report that menopause wasn’t that bad. The reason? Every woman’s menopause onset and symptoms can vary. So can their approach to being a Sandwicher and caregiver. One woman spoke of being a menopausal Sandwicher and caring for her dying mother. Having her kids at that time was actually a lifesaver, not a burden for her. And she was going through a divorce, too!
For some, the onset of menopause can give women a sense of freedom from menstruating after 40 some years and also a huge relief of no longer having to fear getting pregnant. That’s real liberation for many!
Did you know Your Eldercare Consultants has a Geriatric Care Manager who specializes in Sandwich Generation caregivers?
The Program is currently offering a no-obligation consultation (a $150 value).
Also, CJE Counseling Services provides private counseling sessions to help you with depression, anxiety and other concerns when you feel like you can’t cope with the demands of caregiving two generations.
Please call our CJE SeniorLine at 773.508.1000 to schedule an appointment for either of these services.
Information for this article from Wikipedia and North American Menopause Study