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The dual challenge of the sandwich generation: raising children while caring for aging parents

By 2030, about 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day, highlighting a growing concern about the nation’s preparedness for elder care that often falls on the shoulders of their adult children. This gave rise to a term known as the “sandwich generation,” defined as adults who must care for their aging parents while raising their own children.

Lisa Ling is a CBS News contributor and part of the sandwich generation herself. Ling’s family is one of nearly 80 million Americans who care for both children and our elderly parents.

Ling’s husband, Paul, usually helps their two young daughters get ready for school. However, some days he rushes to attend his mother Grace, 92, to her medical appointments. She has faced several emergency room visits and rehabilitation stays over the past few months. Mornings, Ling said, are often “hectic” at home as they juggle the responsibilities of caring for parents and children.

“At a certain point, your parents become like children,” Ling said.

Lauren Shin is another caregiver. Since her parents moved in with her in 2017, Shin has dealt with the complexities of her mother’s deteriorating health and eventual diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, while raising two young children.

“In the first months everything was still fine. It seemed like a lot of nonsense on her part, but then there was a change. She would tell me to shut up with profanity. Sometimes she would look at me like she could kill with her eyes, and I’d say something, and she’d say, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Shin said.

Alzheimer’s disease can lead to delusions and sometimes violent behavior, health experts say, making care difficult. At first, Shin’s father was in charge, spoon-feeding her and talking to her.

“There wasn’t a moment he wasn’t by her side,” Shin said.

After two years, her mother’s health continued to deteriorate. But it wasn’t until Shin gave birth to her second child that she realized something had to change.

“It was hard. I had postpartum. I was trying to heal and take care of a newborn and a 6-year-old, and I didn’t know how to handle it all at first “So it was a lot of nights of screaming and crying into my pillow,” Shin said.

Shin’s family decided it would be better and safer if his mother could move into a memory care facility. They found what they were looking for an hour outside of Anaheim, California, where the majority of residents are Korean Americans, like Shin’s mother. Shin said her mother adjusted to the house and made friends, but the first few months were difficult.

“I heard she was screaming for my dad, and then a change happened, and they said it would happen. And she met some friends that she always hangs out with and sits and eats with,” said Shin said.

The move was partly funded by California’s Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal, which supports people with little or no income. In many states, memory care facility costs can exceed $10,000 per month.

Nicole Jorwic of the organization Caring Across Generations cautioned that not everyone should expect Medicaid to cover such facilities because of long waiting lists and strict financial qualifications. Jorwic said the waiting list is more than 750,000 people.

“States can limit the number of people they’re going to serve. And the federal government also has limits on the amount of money people can have to receive these services. So Medicaid really requires people to spend down their assets or …remain in poverty in order to access long-term care,” Jorwic said.

Meanwhile, Ling’s family was fortunate to keep Paul’s mother at home, while Ling’s own father spent his final days in a facility funded by his government pension and savings, which did not would have lasted only two more years.

Shin and his family are grateful to have found a safe place for his mother. But as a sandwich caregiver, Shin still has young children and an aging father at home. However, she said she hoped things would improve and offered advice to people in her situation.

“It feels better,” she said. “The kids will grow up, they’ll become a little more independent and they won’t need you as much. And the elderly, I just want people to know that they don’t want to be the ones who need help either .And it’s my turn to give back for all their hard work.”

Resources for caregivers:

The new “CBS Mornings” series “Cost of Caregiving” explores the challenges of caring for America’s aging population. Although some have made the difficult decision to place their aging parents in a facility, for many this option is out of reach due to affordability, qualification requirements, or limited availability of these facilities. Tune in to learn more about this topic this Thursday.

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