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Tips for Sandwich Generation Caregivers During COVID-19


Family caregivers have a big responsibility on any given day, but Covid-19 and the effects it may have on people with suppressed immune systems and older adults with chronic illness is especially concerning.

Three men in a family photo: a grandfather, son, and grandson

COVID-19 has thrust many family members into caregiving roles for the first time and, at the same time, required existing caregivers to adapt to how they carry out their caregiving responsibility.

There are many different types of caregivers.  For example, an estimated 28 percent of caregivers are “sandwiched” between caring for an aging parent or older adult while also raising their own children.  These caregivers are often balancing the demands of work and school. Also, many unpaid family caregivers may now be unemployed as a result of the financial uncertainty created by this pandemic.  Some caregivers live with those for whom they care, and others provide care from a distance.  In addition, the role of caregiving is influenced by many factors, such as the age and underlying conditions of the person receiving care.

Regarding of the unique circumstances of the caregiver and the underlying conditions of the person receiving care, there are some commonalities.  First, caregiving is often dynamic and unpredictable, frequently requiring caregivers to navigate crisis with their loved ones.  Second, family caregivers keep their loved ones at home, which decreases the burden or demand on home and community-based services.  The value of family caregivers keeping their loves ones healthy and at home and not overburdening emergency rooms and hospitals cannot be overstated.

Sandwich generation caregivers juggle multiple responsibilities, such as school, work, childcare, self-care and other tasks of daily life, in addition to caregiving responsibilities for an adult.  When it becomes difficult to balance caregiving with the other demands of life, caregivers often feel overwhelmed and stressed.  The need to balance life and caregiving becomes increasingly important for the caregiver’s own health and well-being.  Here are some strategies for those faced with caring for children and older family members:

  • Set clear boundaries. State what you can and cannot do and say “no” when needed.  Determine your needs, whether it is a 15-minute walk, or a regular video-chat with friends, and be firm about making this happen.
  • Prioritize important activities. Do not hesitate to drop non-essential activities from your list. If circumstances change, be flexible and use approaches to simplify life.
  • Ask for help. Do not be reluctant to enlist the help of relatives, friends, neighbors, or fellow church members to help with tasks. Kids can pitch in with household chores. Family members who cannot help with primary care can help manage finances or provide transportation to medical appointments.
  • Communicate. Provide regular updates to other family members through email, text groups, Google Drive documents, or apps like Lotsa Helping Hands.
  • Plan ahead. Caregiving can last years and even decades.  Take the time to research services and supports, such as respite care and adult day care, in your community and their respective costs.
  • Talk to your employer. Check on options for working from home or flexibility to work different hours. Explore employee paid or unpaid leave benefits.
  • Seek balance. Be flexible and focus on the needs of your family and yourself, knowing that each day and week will be different.

Sandwich generation caregivers are providing an important source of support and love to family members.  From their role, these caregivers often experience feelings of satisfaction and meaning in their lives.  However, many caregivers typically feel highly strained and overwhelmed with the emotional, physical and financial burden taking a toll on them.  It is imperative that caregivers recognize the potential stressors associated with being “sandwiched” between caring for their children and an aging parent.  In this time of COVID-19, it is even more critical for caregivers to implement positive strategies to better care for themselves while they care for others.

For more information on family caregiving or other resources, contact your county office of NDSU Extension.