Metro-East News

Sandwiched: Are you taking care of kids and elderly parents?

While sitting around the kitchen table in the Collinsville house she’s lived in since 1963, 95-year-old Pat Ciszczon tells her 52-year-old daughter, Lisa Brennan, about any requests from the grocery store.

Ciszczon describes a cookie that she sees at the St. John’s Community Center, hoping Brennan could find the right brand. Brennan also plans to buy some macaroni and cheese because her 7-year-old adopted daughter, Andrea, and Ciszczon enjoy that meal.

Brennan, who is Ciszczon’s primary caregiver as she raises Andrea, is part of the “sandwich generation”: caught in the middle of taking care of kids and aging parents.

Nearly half of adults in their 40s or 50s have a parent over 65 in their house, and are either raising a child at home or have a financially dependent grown child, according to the Pew Research Center.

Brennan’s siblings, including her sister, Anita Schmitt, of Fairview Heights, help with caring for Ciszczon, who has dementia, and Andrea, but it is Brennan who moved into her mother’s house and is primarily juggling the duties.

“The rest of us in the area were already in homes,” Schmitt said. “It was either bring Mom to us, which is what Mom didn’t want to do; (but) this worked out for us.”

Brennan said she was warned about the challenges she faced, and it took a year to feel settled in the situation.

“Lots of people said, ‘It’s going to be difficult. You shouldn’t do this,’” Brennan said.

Brennan, who is working on a PhD in education, even had to take a break from academics until she found how to balance her life with her mom’s life.

“You have to be careful with your stress,” said Brennan, who teaches English, composition and literature at McKendree University. “I got through the first year of my classes, but with great difficulty. I had to take a leave of absence, even from my program, until I got things smoothed out.”

Caregivers have huge economic impact

Caregivers in situations such as Brennan’s provide 37 billion hours of care worth $470 billion a year to their parents, spouses or other adult loved ones, according to a recent AARP report.

When AARP last did the study in 2011, the value of caregivers’ service was put at $450 billion.

The study estimated caregivers provide an average of 18 hours of care per week and valued it at $12.51 an hour.

AARP estimates 1.5 million people in Illinois act as caregivers to older adults or an adult with a chronic or disabling or serious health condition.

The stresses of caring for another adult isn’t limited to those who are “sandwiched.”

Lana Schmulbach, 67, of Fairview Heights, is now the primary caregiver for her husband, Edmond.

The 78-year-old Edmond Schumlbach had to undergo treatment for colon cancer as well as radiation treatment for a tumor on his leg. He uses a walker.

Lana Schmulbach said she has to lay out his clothes for him every morning, prepare him breakfast, and make sure he has something to eat for lunch while she is at work.

“It’s a lot of stress,” Lana said. “I put on a good face, (but) it is a lot stress.”

Before the medical issues in the last couple of years, Edmond Schmulbach had been able to care for himself, she said. He even served her coffee or juice and a light breakfast in the morning, and made sure the mail was picked up and trash can was out for pickup.

“When he’s not carrying the load, it lets us know how much you did carry,” Lana Schmulbach said. “Now I do it all.”

Another element that can add to the dynamic, and financial strain, of multiple generations living under one roof is millenials moving back in with their parents.

Living with parents is now the most common arrangement for people ages 18-34, an analysis of census data by the Pew Research Center found.

And the proportion of older millennials ages 25-34 who are living at home has reached its highest point — 19 percent — on record, the Pew analysis showed.

Linda Davis, who is a nurse with St. John’s Community Care in Edwardsville, has worked in the past with adults who have to take care of their aging parents and their own children or teenagers.

The adult caretaker could feel torn between caring for a parent while tending to their children’s needs, Davis said. They feel obligated to make sure Mom and Dad are safe and they get their children to their activities, all while working a job.

“Their lives is a juggling act, and never quite doing the juggling adequately,” Davis said. “I think, too, what makes it hard is peers of their own age who are not doing the same thing, and don’t understand what they’re dealing with. It’s very emotionally draining for them.”

These situations can force the caretaker to become their parent’s parent, which the aging parent may not like.

“(The senior adult) feels like they’re being treated like a child,” Davis said.

The caretaker has to make sure their parent takes a bath, may have to take away their car and other pieces of independence.

“Taking things that identify them as an adult is very hard,” Davis said.

Caregiving can produce financial strain

Being a family caregiver can affect a person’s physical and emotional health, as well as have a financial strain.

According to AARP, 55 percent of family caregivers report being overwhelmed by the amount of care their family member needs. And 38, percent of caregivers reported moderate to high degrees of financial strain as a result of providing care.

Sixty percent of caregivers also have full- or part-time jobs, according to the report.

“Well it’s difficult enough to be a caregiver,” said Stacey Rhodes, director of the adult day program for St. John’s Community Care. “Just the trials and tribulations that go along with that. ... There’s layers. Caring for Mom and Dad, trying to do your own job, (and) caring for your own child.”

Rhodes said it could be difficult coordinating services and care for older parents around schools, programs and activities for children.

Rhodes said she stresses to caregivers to take care of their own well-being first.

“If they’re not taking care of themselves, they’re not getting rest, not eating, not relieving stress,” Rhodes said. “They’re going to wear out.”

Sometimes the grown child and his or her child will move in with the aging parent, because the parent wants to stay in their own home.

“They want to stay in the house as long as they can,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said adult day services, where a senior spends part of her day in a center where there are activities, entertainment and socializing, provides respite for the caregiver.

Having outside help come in to help parents for a few hours could cost $22 an hour. Sending a parent to adult day services costs about $10.50 an hour, Rhodes said.

Just having some time for themselves allows caregivers to have a break, work, continue on with their careers, go to their own doctor’s appointments, grocery shop or do other errands, Rhodes said.

For elderly people living at home, and their caregivers, living in a retirement facility may not be financially feasible.

“Cost might be a part of it,” Rhodes said. “Assisted living is very expensive. ... Sometimes, someone with memory issues ... the only thing available is a memory facility, and they are private pay, and they are very expensive.”

Having her mom go to St. John’s five days a week helps Brennan out, she said.

Brennan said even a conscience effort to make sure Andrea gets to do all the things a youngster normally experiences, like going to friends’ birthday parties.

A membership at the YMCA where Andrea swims, while Brennan exercises or takes yoga classes, helps with the stress levels, too, she said.

Brennan even joined a support group for caregivers to gain some tips dealing with the situation.

“For me initially, the learning curve, I just didn’t know what I was doing,” Brennan said.

The Associated Press contributed information to this article.

Sandwiched by the numbers

  • 47 percent of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent over age 65 and either are raising a child at home or have a financially dependent adult child
  • 15 percent of adults are providing financial support to aging parent and children
  • 40 percent say aging parents and children rely on them for emotional support

Source: Pew Research Center