I have aging parents. But I don’t have children. Am I still considered part of the “Sandwich Generation” or does lack of one slice of bread put me in some type of gluten-free land? My curiosity got the better of me so when in doubt, surf the net.
Turns out I still qualify as a part of the Sandwich Generation. According to the website, “The Sandwich Generation,” authored by Carol Abaya, M.A., I am what is known as an “open-faced” sandwich. (Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up folks.). So now I know there is a catch-phrase for my situation but it doesn’t change the fact that I have a responsibility I would prefer not to have.
Helping aging parents is tough.
I have to walk that fine line between being understanding and helpful and role reversal where I become the parent and start telling them how they should live their lives. I could argue with them and stress out about it but I’ve decided that to save my sanity I just have to roll with the punches. I am learning from their experiences and intend to apply them to my own life as I age.
Here are 9 tips for living independently in your golden years:
- Downsize to a manageable sized home on your terms. This will require you to downsize the amount of stuff that you have. I would prefer to go through my own items and eliminate what I don’t need rather than having to rely on family to do it for me when I can no longer navigate the steps to the attic or the basement. And having a small space might allow you to stay in your home longer if there is less to maintain. Having already helped clear out my parents’ house I can tell you I am already dreading having to do the same when I start crawling through my in-laws attic. But the day is coming.
- No stairs in the home. Stairs become a real obstacle as physical abilities begin to diminish. Having a home designed with bed and bath at ground level is much easier than having to scramble to find room for a bedroom set-up in an existing floor plan. I am grateful every day that my in-laws elected to purchase a one-story home 50+ years ago. If they had not, we would be forced to find them new living arrangements.
- Make the laundry area on the ground level. Again, stairs become the enemy of advanced age.
- Have a separate shower stall with a built-in seat and hand rails in the bathroom. If you’ve ever tried to help someone into, or out of, a bath, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you’ll learn.
- Live in a community where there is ease of transportation. Taking away the car keys is one of the most difficult things a child must do to their parents. For parents, it is truly the end of their freedom. Now they are dependent on others to get them where they need to go. I will live in a community where I can either walk or bicycle where I need to go, have family and friends who can provide me a ride, take public transportation or have access to a car service.
- Accept assistance in the spirit in which it is given. You can continue to enjoy friends, family and your hobbies if you swallow your pride. My father loved to fish and even after he stopped driving, he would have a fishing buddy take him to the lake. My father-in-law loves to golf and he still plays in a men’s league because his golfing pals give him a ride. So losing the ability to drive is the end of your freedom only if you believe that to be so. If you have a network of friends and family you can reach out to, you can still enjoy everything you did before you stopped driving. And you get to sit in the passenger seat and enjoy the scenery.
- Try to keep a positive mental attitude. Bette Davis said “old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Boy did she know what she was talking about. I’m getting aches and pains at my age. I can only imagine what it will be like as I grow older. But I don’t intend to go into old age gracefully. I will have to be dragged into it kicking and screaming the entire time.
- Be patient. As I see age chipping away at my parent-in-laws’ physical and mental beings I have to accept that those things may happen to me someday too. So no matter how many times my mother-in-law asks me the same question and no matter how many times I have to listen to the same story from my father-in-law, I smile and remind myself that they cannot help repeating themselves. They are sharing their lives and their experiences with me and those around them. It’s important to them. It’s their legacy.
- Be prepared for the possibility of needing long-term care in an assisted living facility. According to a 2012 MetLife survey, the annual cost for a private room is $90,500 and for a semi-private room it is $81,000. And according to the U.S. Government’s latest National Nursing Home Survey, the average stay in a nursing home is 835 days, or just approximately 2 years and 9 months. There are financial products and strategies that can reduce this financial risk, but it’s important to explore these options as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the fewer options that will be available to you, and the more they will cost. Talk to a financial professional.
So this is what I’ve learned from assisting my father and now my in-laws as they move into old age. I still don’t like the sandwich analogy, no matter how appropriately descriptive it might be. But it occurred to me that there is a certain type of sandwich that goes by a number of names depending on your geographical region. These names include sub, hoagie and, my favorite, hero. So for everyone who cares for elderly parents, I say if we have to be a sandwich, we should all consider ourselves to be heroes.