“You stole my food! I’m hungry!”

“No. I didn’t, grandma!”

Yes, you stole my food!”

“No, grandma, I would never steal your food!”

“Yes, you did!”

This conversation escalated to screams and tears.

The elder and the young 10-year-old boy were two slices of the “traditional” sandwich generation. The “meat” of the sandwich — the adult child of the elder and mother of the young boy — was unable to stop the flow of emotions. Until…

The mother told me this story. “I sat down with my son and explained what Alzheimer’s is and what it does to the brain. That his grandmother grew up during WWII and was often hungry. That his grandmother’s brain was sick, and she did not know what she was saying.” She continued. “The next time my mother accused my son of stealing her food, my son very gently took her hand and took her into the kitchen. He opened the door of the refrigerator and said, “Look grandma. See all this food. You will not be hungry.”

What is important is that the young boy by his actions acknowledged and addressed the elder’s fear. The actions of this 10-year-old quickly defused a potentially emotional disaster.

In another case, the daughter and son of a woman in her late 80s lived near Denver. The mother lived in San Antonio, Texas. The son and daughter-in-law did not like where the elder lived and wanted to move her to Denver. Twice the elder agreed — in the beginning. The first time she refused to pack. But the second time everything was packed, and at the last minute, the elder refused to get on the plane. The family did not know what to do.

The elder adored her teenage granddaughter. At my suggestion, the granddaughter took the reins. “Grandma, I wish you lived near us. I wish you could come to the ball games to see me cheerleading. And you can have dinner with us all the time.” The elder happily moved and repeatedly told her son, daughter-in-law (who took over the primary oversight role), and granddaughter how happy she was to live near them.

In this situation, again, the grandchild addressed the elder’s concern — of moving to a strange place and not knowing anyone. The granddaughter had assured her grandmother that the family would be there with and for her, that the elder would not be alone.

The elder passed away earlier this year. The family thanked me for my initial advice.

Grandchildren need to — and can — play an active role in a caregiving scene. Family conferences — where all players are at the table — can help reinforce sandwich “generationer’s” love of their children and help the children understand the full scene. Also this conference can get children actively involved in elder care.

One geriatric care manager, who works in one of the largest home care networks, says grandchildren can help in elder caregiving situations in several critical areas.

  • A grandchild can be a buffer between the elder and the sandwich generationer, who may have unresolved issues with each other.
  • Grandchildren and grandparents often have a special bond, and the grandparent may listen more closely to what the child has to say.
  • A grandchild can act as an impartial mediator and help the elder and sandwich generationer identify concerns and options. The grandchild does not have the emotional baggage that a sandwich generationer may have.
  • A grandchild primary caregiver may seem to be less threatening to the elder. The elder may think an adult child has ulterior motives especially if money is involved, if money has to be spent for care or if living arrangements need to be drastically changed.
  • Being younger and having young children herself, a grandchild caregiver may seek more outside help. She does not feel she has to do everything herself. After all, carpooling and play dates — forms of using outside help — are normal for the grandchild.

When elders and sandwich generationers live near each other, grandchildren can help do smaller household chores, spend time playing board games, and read to the elder. Very young children can do puzzles, color or paint, or even play ‘house’ with the elder. Older teens can take over some elder driving chores.

Happy times together translate to better elder health, both physical and emotional, and lessen sandwich generation stress.

If a family is geographically separated, young volunteers from a local school or church can build positive relationships, thereby helping the elder maintain a higher health level and quality of life. While there are many positives to grandchildren being involved in elder care, there are caveats. Men (grandsons) are more in denial about a person’s deteriorating physical and especially mental capabilities, and are less aggressive in seeking help and/or advice.

Also, there are numerous reports that financial exploitation by grandchildren has skyrocketed because of the tough economy. Because of the special bond, elders are more likely to give money to grandchildren. I have written at length about the many scams of elders, who receive telephone calls supposedly from grandchildren who say they are in trouble and need money. The supposed grandchild says the grandparent should not tell his parents and should wire money, usually to an overseas account.

When a grandchild takes over as primary caregiver the challenges can be even greater than for a traditional sandwich generationer. The grandchild is pulled in even more directions and may also have to deal with her/his parent(s) emotional and physical issues. Thus, the emotional stress may be double.

By nature of their job, GCMs play a key role in making sure the elder receives appropriate care, thus preserving health and quality of life. However, GCMs have mostly focused on the elder. Often the health and well-being of the sandwich generationer and grandchildren are forgotten. Consequently, the GCM’s role needs to be broadened and include total family dynamics. Also the GCM needs to actively bring in grandchildren (or even great-grandchildren) into the care plan. By actively involving children, the GCM can help reduce the physical and emotional burdens of the sandwich generationer and at the same time enhance the elder’s emotional and physical health.

Grandchildren can be great helpers in elder care scenes by just being themselves.


The Sandwich Generation Definition

Traditional Sandwich: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children.

Club Sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s, sandwiched between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren. OR those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.

Open Faced: anyone else involved in elder care.

In any situation, the children of the primary caregiver are often neglected. The meat caregiver is so involved in doing chores and handling the elder’s finances that the children or grandchildren are often forgotten. School grades slip. Fights ensue. Teens often get into drugs and alcohol.

Advocare Care Management is the preeminent place for all of your aging life care in Delray Beach. We provide advice, resources, and personal assessments that help you and your loved one. Growing older is challenging and you want to work with those that offer the best support and tools. We make things easier for everyone. We offer care planning services to all of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Our team is available anytime 7 days a week. Contact Advocare Care Management today and see why we are the best place to go for all of the resources you need in dealing with an aging loved one.

Reprinted with permission from Aginglife.org. Contact us today and let us help you.