Nearly 40 million Americans serve as caretakers for older relatives. Many of them are also members of the so-called “Sandwich Generation” — the informal name given to those who are raising children at the same time that they provide this care for older relatives. As the coronavirus outbreak has increasingly resulted in temporary school closures, with a shift to online learning at home, and with directives in place to protect the older Americans who are at most at risk from COVID-19, this generation of caretakers is under more strain than ever.
“The role of the family caregiver has changed. They are providing even more emotional support,” AARP’s family and caregiving expert Amy Goyer told Supermajority News. “You work hard, you have a system in place when you are caregiving, and this [outbreak] has disrupted everything.”
As major cities and towns across the United States shut down, caregivers find themselves in “a really tricky situation, In addition to how to deal with keeping everyone safe, there is also just the basic logistics of the day,” said Goyer, who added that she has been talking to many caregivers over the last week about how they’ve managed suddenly working from home while also figuring out childcare, and supervising schoolwork, as well as their eldercare responsibilities.
Goyer recommends that caretakers create a schedule for the household to follow. “You can say to your kid, ‘you are going to watch a movie while I’m working,’” Goyer explained. “Or ‘during the time mom gets her shower, you are going to do some reading, and I’ll do some work.’”
While the current public health emergency is putting a spotlight on caretakers, many were struggling long before the outbreak. A recent survey by Haven Life found that eight out of ten members of the Sandwich Generation reporting feeling overwhelmed. Nearly 60 percent also said they expected to help their parents financially as they aged and adjusted their retirement goals accordingly. Caregiving in the United States is also highly gendered; according to a 2015 study by the AARP, 60 percent of caregivers in the U.S. are women.
Many caregivers who are themselves in at-risk age groups are now forced to make strategic choices when it comes to balancing taking care of their health and taking care of others. The coronavirus pandemic “is really a cross-generational issue,” Goyer affirmed.
As the pandemic sheds light on the often invisible and unpaid role caretakers play, it also could be a turning point in how caretaking is supported both by public policy and the tools available to those who need them. “In a time like this, the role of family caregivers is so crucial for our older adults,” said Goyer. “The changes that are coming out because of this will lead to some new solutions. I think the long term effect is that it will change the way caregiving is viewed.”