The Sandwich Generation is a Balancing Act

Parents who are in the season of life where they are raising their children often spend lots of time in auditoriums and stadiums. Many of them also have parents who are aging and need help.
If parents were to gaze around the rows of seating, they might be surprised to learn that about one out of eight of the other parents around them aged 40 to 60 is caring for at least one aging parent, as well as caring for their children.

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The Sandwich Generation Infographic

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What is the Sandwich Generation? Understanding Different Types of Eldercare Sandwiches

What is the sandwich generation? The term sandwich generation accurately describes adults who simultaneously care for their children and parents at the same time. Carol Abaya, who is a nationally recognized expert on the sandwich generation, more narrowly answers the question, “What is the sandwich generation?”

Carol went beyond the traditional sandwich generation to define:

  • Traditional sandwich-anyone who cares for their children and their parents simultaneously
  • Open-faced sandwich-anyone who is involved in eldercare
  • Club sandwich-parents aged of 50 and 60 who are sandwiched between aging parents, children and grandchildren
  • Club sandwich-those who are between 30 and 40 and have young children, aging parents, and grandparents, Carol calls the Club Sandwich. [i]

What are Some Facts Around the Sandwich Generation?

The Pew Research Center and the National Alliance for Caregiving also tell us some sandwich generation facts. The National Alliance for Caregiving joined research partners with the AARP Public Policy Institute and developed the 2015 Caregiving in the US Report.

  • Most of the sandwich generation were baby boomers until 2005.
  • As of 2014, baby boomers became grandparents and started transitioning into the aging population, while their children took their places and became the sandwich generation.
  • The 2015 report identified that 44% of people aged 44-55 have at least one parent still living and at least one child that is under the age of 21. [ii]
  • About 66% of all senior caregivers are women. [ii]
  • More men are stepping up to be caregivers in recent years. [ii]

Our society has long viewed women as the primary caregivers for children and parents, so it’s not surprising that most caregivers are women. Men stepping up to be caregivers is a refreshing trend.

How Much of a Financial Burden Does the Sandwich Generation Carry?

The Pew Report also showed some interesting sandwich generation facts about the financial difficulties that face the sandwich generation.

  • About 47% of sandwich caregivers between the ages of 40 and 50 have a parent over the age of retirement and are also supporting children who are over the minority age.
  • About 15% of people in their middle ages are financially supporting their parents and their children.
  • Are Sandwich Generation Caregivers Happy with Their Duties?

    The Pew Report also looked at how happy the sandwich generation is.

    • Approximately 31% of the respondents described themselves as very happy in their role as a sandwich caregiver.
    • Approximately 52% of respondents said they were pretty happy.
    • Many adults who provide care for their elderly parents stated that they felt a deeper, more intimate relationship with their parents, especially when their parents expressed appreciation for the help.
    • Are Some Cultures More Drawn to Being Sandwich Caregivers Than Others?

      The Pew report showed some interesting dynamics about how ethnicity and culture plays into sandwich caregiving. The statistics demonstrate that certain ethnicities expect adult children to be caregivers for both children and aging parents as part of their cultural values.

      The Hispanic culture takes the lead in their expectations for adult children to care for their aging parents despite other caregiving and life responsibilities. The report revealed the following statistics:

      • The Hispanic population in the U.S. took a clear lead in sandwich caregiving as compared with whites and African-Americans.
      • About 21% of Hispanics care for their parents and children at the same time.
      • Most Hispanic caregivers were women.
      • Sandwich caregivers in the African-American population ranked next, with about 8% caring for parents and children.
      • Research shows that white Americans trail Hispanics and African-Americans with only 5% of them stating that they care for their parents and children.

      Do We Know How Stressful Sandwich Caregiving Is?

      With the trend towards aging in place rather than seniors transitioning to an assisted living or nursing care center, the numbers of senior caregivers are rising to meet the need.

      Because of the high levels of sandwich generation stress that accompany the role of senior caregiving, our society is wisely placing greater emphasis on caring for the caregiver. The sandwich generation stress of senior caregiving stresses some of the caregiver’s bodily systems.

      Caregiver stress commonly causes problems with:

      • high blood pressure
      • elevated insulin
      • heart problems
      • weakened immunities

      It stands to reason that career senior caregivers experience negative health issues and are risking caregiver burnout. Sandwich caregivers are at even greater risk of having increased health problems caused by sandwich generation stress.

      Can We Define Some Categories of Sandwich Caregiver Stress?

      In addition to caring for elderly parents and children, sandwich generation caregivers are also working and managing their own households. Adults who take care of their parents in another household and their children in their own households often experience three different kinds of stress including:

      1. financial stress
      2. personal stress
      3. emotional stress [iii]

    The recent economic downturn has caused women homemakers to get jobs or return to work to replace the lost income from their spouse’s jobs.
    Since women make up the largest percentages of senior caregivers, women who find themselves sandwiched between elderly parents and caring for their children are getting more than their fair share of sandwich generation stress. The contrast is striking:

    • Studies have shown that 20% of female caregivers over the age of 50 experience symptoms of depression.
    • Only 8% of their non-caregiving peers experience depression. [iv]

    Can Respite Care Rescue the Sandwich Generation?

    Because of the stress of doing dual-duty with caregiving, it’s prudent for sandwich caregivers to add respite care to their personal caregiving duties. Respite care gives family caregivers a welcome break from the worry and stress of their caregiving duties.

    Fortunately, senior caregivers have several options when it comes to respite care. Let’s look at the options:

    • An alternate respite caregiver can go directly to the senior’s home to provide care.
    • The family caregiver can also take their parent to a nursing or assisted living center for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.
    • Care in a nursing home or assisted living facility can provide part-time or full-time care after a crisis or hospitalization to provide short-term rehabilitation and give caregivers a break.
    • Family members may also seek respite care when transitioning their parents to an assisted living or nursing care center permanently so that the senior has time to adjust.

    Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities provide snacks, activities, and light medical care. Family members can return from a break or short vacation knowing that their parents are well-taken care of.

Are There Any Tax Advantages for Sandwich Generation Caregivers?

Caregivers from the sandwich generation are wise to consult with a tax attorney or accountant with experience in eldercare as they take on the responsibility of caring for elderly parents. Family caregivers can usually ease the financial burden of caregiving when they file their annual taxes.

Here are some important things to be aware of when speaking with your tax professional:

  • If you are a family caregiver for a relative (including in-laws or step-parents), and you pay at least 50% of their care, you can claim your elder as a dependent on your taxes.
  • Be aware that the IRS will take your parents’ income into consideration when figuring your tax credits.
  • Currently, your parents may not have a joint gross income of over $4050, not including Social Security income or other non-taxable income.
  • Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get deductions when you share caregiving with your siblings.
  • Some families may receive tax credits when both spouses work, and they are paying for an alternate caregiver.

Tax laws change often, so it’s wise to consult with a tax professional at least yearly, as long as you continue caregiving duties.

Should Sandwich Caregivers Itemize Expenses for Tax Purposes?

Even if you can’t claim your parents as dependents, you may still be able to deduct expenses like:

  • Prescriptions
  • Medical insurance premiums
  • Medical supplies
  • Glasses
  • Hearing aids
  • Mileage for doctor appointments

Be sure to share all of your caregiving expenses with your tax professional, even if you don’t think they are pertinent. You may qualify for more than you think.

Did You Know that You Can Get Paid to Take Care of Aging Parents?

There’s no question that the sandwich generation has lots of company when it comes to fellow parents caring for multiple generations. Adult children of aging parents have much to learn from each other about finding ways to make the middle of the sandwich less burdensome.

It’s difficult to find ways to help with the expenses of caring for young children, but there are some viable ways of getting financial assistance to pay for parental caregiving.
Networking is a good way to learn about how to access benefits through:

  • Area Agency on Aging
  • Veteran’s Administration
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Long-term care policies

Area Agency on Aging

The Area Agency on Aging is a federal agency that has information about all the senior services in your area. [v]

When you call, you can make an appointment to speak with a counselor who will be happy to help you find funds for taking care of loved ones at home. Be sure to ask about options for short-term respite care.

It will be helpful to the staff if you remember to bring all your loved one’s medical records and other financial information to your appointment.

Veteran’s Administration

Veterans who served at least 90 days of active duty during war time are eligible for services through the Veteran’s Administration (VA). The VA provides three ways that you can get funding for taking care of your loved ones. [vi] They are:

  • Basic pension for low-income veterans
  • Benefits for housebound veterans
  • Aid and Attendance

The Aid and Attendance program has eligibility criteria which includes needing help for activities of daily living.

Veteran caregivers can use funds for:

  • Assisted living
  • Nursing home services
  • In-home caregiving

Medicaid Cash and Counseling

Twelve states participated in the Medicaid Cash and Counseling program. This program provides funds that caregivers can use as payment for caregiving. [vii]

Local Medicaid offices provide information about this program. Look for Medicaid Cash and Counseling programs in the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Mexico
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia


Medicare is another federal program that covers in-home personal care. Seniors can take advantage of Medicare when they are also getting skilled care like nursing care. [viii] Medicare will also cover care in assisted living or a nursing home.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program for disabled adults and people over the age of 65, without disabilities who meet certain financial limits, [ix] and it doesn’t account for monies paid into Social Security during your working years.

Amounts of funding vary depending on the setting where the senior receives care. SSI also offers funding for short-term respite care for those who qualify for it.

Long-Term Care Insurance

If your loved one purchased a long-term care policy, it may be possible to withdraw funds for in-home caregiving. Policies include limits and exclusions, so it’s best to read the policy thoroughly and ask lots of questions.

It’s possible to get funding for senior care from many resources. Sometimes you can use more than one source of funding. Many of the funding sources are flexible and can be used short or long-term.

Some Final Thoughts on Help for the Sandwich Generation

As time goes on, things change and so will your life’s circumstances. During the challenging season of senior caregiving, find out as much as you can about balancing your life during the sandwich years.