'Sandwich generation' needs help with financial, family strains
People who become caregivers to parents while raising children need to know more about options available for help, residents and advocates told Sen. Bob Casey during a hearing on Monday in Pittsburgh.
Casey, D-Scranton, a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, chaired the hearing in the Allegheny County Courthouse about challenges of the “sandwich generation” — people in their 40s or 50s who become financially responsible for parents, children and sometimes, grandchildren.
About 15 percent of people in that age group care for a parent and a child, according to a 2013 Pew Research study.
Those burdens disproportionately affect middle-class families, who can lose $325,000 caring for a parent, Casey said.
“Far too many of these people don't have access to programs that would make their life a little bit easier,” he said.
For five years, Tom Moore of Ross and his wife have been the primary caretakers for their four children — three of whom have special needs — their grandson and Moore's mother-in-law, he said.
Although the Moores took on the responsibilities willingly, it has led to financial and psychological strain and family tension, Moore said.
“There are rarely long evenings out as a couple. There are never vacations as a couple, or even as a family,” Moore said. “Taking care of your own needs becomes your lowest priority because you're too busy seeing to everyone else's needs.”
Sister Barbara Ann Boss, Elizabeth Seton Center CEO, spoke about difficulties endured by clients at the Brookline center, which provides child care and senior services.
Caregiver stresses range from transportation issues to financial difficulties, jobs with inflexible hours to the inability to take time to care for themselves, she said.
“An overwhelmed and stressed caregiver is not able to give quality care to a parent or child,” Boss said. “But placing a parent into a nursing home can give an individual a guilt trip.”
UPMC geriatric psychiatrist Charles Reynolds and Mildred Morrison, the county Area Agency on Aging administrator, said the burden on caregivers has worsened during the past 50 years because people live longer and costs have increased, especially for big-ticket items such as college tuition.
Those expenses were compounded by the recent recession when the country recorded a 10.5 percent increase in the number of multigenerational households. Providing emotional support for all family members is essential, Reynolds said.
“We think of stress and depression in a sense as contagious illness,” he said. “If one member of the family is suffering, it can spread to others.”
Morrison said financial benefits and tax incentives are available, but acknowledged that applying for relief is a job in and of itself.
Corinne Kennedy is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7823 or firstname.lastname@example.org.