One of the news items which flashed across my phone screen this week was covering the sandwich generation.
Millions of today’s child-rearing adults are being pulled in two directions, the responsibility of raising their offspring while monitoring the condition of their aging parents. They are “sandwiched” between these two obligations.
My family endured this situation back in the ‘90s. While raising two sons, we unexpectedly became enmeshed with the sole duty of overseeing five family members, an aunt, three parents and a Down syndrome sister. I am intimately aware of the burden this entails.
We have three driving forces which will make this event more common as the years progress. These forces have all been addressed in previous columns. The positive in this equation is the heartaches and headaches many of you are or will be addressing can be mitigated to some extent.
Compounding problem No. 1
In my column “The Golden Years – fable or reality?” from 2016, “we baby boomers grew up with what we thought at the time was the way life was going to be. You would work for a company for 30-plus years, retire, then live this idealized scenario where you would relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Grandma and grandpa will be sitting on the porch, rocking away and relishing the visits from their kids and grandkids.
“For those of you who have still not experienced your 40th birthday, this visual sounds like a fairy tale. How could a generation think that life after 60 was going to be this idyllic? What were they smoking?”
The first factor is we baby boomers have failed to take responsibility for our own actions. I know this may sound harsh, but the sad reality is my generation, which was known for its independent, no-excuses, take-charge approach to life, has fallen for the concept that old age is inevitable. It’s just something we all have to deal with.
The result: The vast majority of those entering Medicare have several strikes against them going in.
•They are already on 1 to 3 or more medications.
•They have one or more medical conditions, be it diabetes, heart problems, obesity or the hip or knee which refuses to cooperate.
•They have done very little in the way of a consistent exercise protocol.
•Their nutrition choices are suspect
Compounding problem No. 2
The other “slice of bread” for this sandwich conundrum is the millennial generation, a generation more populated than the baby boomers. Last year I wrote a column “The coming healthcare tsunami,” outlining the fitness concerns of this up-and-coming generation. Here are some of the highlights:
•An overall decline in health begins at age 27 for millennials. Beyond this age, health outcomes are overwhelmingly worse and worse as the years pass.
•The top 10 chronic health conditions affecting millennials all saw an increase in prevalence between 2014 and 2017. These include major depression, substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder, hypertension, hyperactivity, psychotic disorder, Crohn’s disease/ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, tobacco use disorder and type II diabetes. All but two of these conditions saw a 10- to 31-percent rise in prevalence.
What these and other statistics point out is, with each succeeding generation, the health profile has declined versus the age bracket preceding it. The overall health of this nation is definitely on the decline.
The projections have speculated the millennials will not live as long as their parents. I do acknowledge a recent study which stated that trend had changed for the positive. While I am no statistician, the clear evidence of the decline of both the older as well as the younger, I predict that new trend is temporary.
I wonder if there is a study outlining the quality of life over the last 10 years of life. Again, I speculate the outcome would be no cause for celebration. If I do make it to 90, I want to walk into my birthday party, not be wheeled in.
Compounding problem No. 3
Back in 2015, my “A gift to yourself” column presents the choices for the person in the middle of this sandwich.
“For those of you who are head/s of the household, while you have one or more jobs as well as one or more children, you may have begun taking on additional responsibilities in the form of aging parents, aunts and uncles who also now need your support.”
Using the example of the holiday season, “With approach of winter, you are now dealing with the arrival of the holiday season, i.e. little sister Thanksgiving and big brother Christmas. This 30-day window results in a whirlwind of non-stop activities with seemingly no way to get off the merry-go-round. You can only soldier on. It is at this time of year that you begin to wonder if you can handle it all.”
Sound familiar? You have taken a back seat to your life too often in order to accommodate others. But what is the eventual outcome using that strategy?
“To neglect yourself because you feel there is just no time, in the long run, becomes very counter-productive. I have several clients who, over the course of this year, have taken on the responsibility of a family member — a sister, a father, an aunt or a mother. One underlying theme has come to the surface. They all (yes, all) realized that if they had not committed to a fitness regimen, the tasks at hand were only going to become progressively more difficult.
“Now the stairs have become easier. Carrying bundles of clothes is not a challenge. Moving furniture takes less out of them. Grocery shopping and preparing meals doesn’t drain them (as much). They face the next morning with less trepidation because they feel better than they have in years. They have come to the realization that they still have an upside.”
Each succeeding peer group has demonstrated a drop in physical health versus the one going before. If the baby boomers, who are at the front of the queue, are any indication, the down-the-road implications are ominous.
My bottom line has always been you are responsible for your own actions. Your day-to-day decisions going forward will impact you positively or negatively. Don’t ever let yourself think it’s too late. My clients prove every day how flawed that mindset is.
I have seen firsthand the decline of my parents’ generation. Don’t let yourself procrastinate. The results that will follow are nothing you would ever wish for.
Good luck and good health!