It was the collection of little things that constantly nagged at Sacha as she and her siblings struggled to care for their ailing mother.
Who was going to be able to make the 30-minute, one-way drive to her mom’s house to administer her eye drops? When was the last time she showered? Had she soiled herself and did her laundry need to be done?
And then came the impossible choices: Attend her son's sporting event or run an errand for her mom, who continued to live independently in her own home? There was never a right decision.
Her mom, Netty, passed away recently at 87.
But for years, Sacha and her siblings were among more than 34 million Americans who provided unpaid care for a friend or loved one, according to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report. And as the U.S. population continues to age, experts say the need for caregiving will balloon.
And if Sacha has one piece of advice for those in her place: “Do not wait to get a caregiver to help.”
"The relief of knowing that your mother is taken care of when you can't do it, it was really a relief to all of us,'' she says. "There was just peace of mind, and I wish I had done it earlier.”
"You always worry about the money, sure,'' she added. "But there is no price tag for your peace of mind or your loved one’s comfort."
Sandwiched Generation is Smashed
The strain on her and her siblings intensified when her mother turned 75 and had to stop driving.
The occasional trip here or there to help quickly turned into more frequent stops and errand-running. Her mom, who had a pacemaker, had to visit the cardiologist every other week. Her blood had to be tested. And over the years, she became incontinent and Sacha worried about her cleanliness.
And while a half-hour drive doesn't sound like a lot, it added up in time and stress as Sacha worked to balance the demands of a full-time job and being a full-time mom with sons who were active in school, sports, band and their church. That doesn't even account for her activities or being a wife. To top it off, she also had a 45-minute, one-way commute to her own job that was as far north as her mom’s home was south.
Even with the support of siblings, the dueling responsibilities created stress.
"I was definitely sandwiched,'' Sacha said, referring to being of the generation that is in the middle of caring for parents and for their own children.
Sacha fit squarely into the BLS profile of the unpaid caregiver for seniors:
- Half, or nearly 9 million people, are parents themselves.
- Most, 78 percent, are employed. Of those, 63 percent work full-time.
- Nearly 40 percent of family caregivers help with household chores, including preparing meals, cleaning up and housework.
"I constantly felt pulled in many different directions,” Sacha said. “And it helped to have help. It was a lifesaver, really. Even just the help with the basic things. Aides are so much better at things like giving baths. I'm more clunky at it.”
And the companionship her caregiver provided for the 20 hours a week she came to her mother’s home was priceless.
Hiring Professionals Frees You
Jackie, who also became a caregiver for her aging parent, couldn't agree more.
Jackie and her sister hired Visiting Angels for their father, Jack, to help around the house after her mother died. For Jackie, having a professional meant freeing her to spend quality time with her dad before he passed away a couple years later at the age of 80.
In the beginning, his caregiver visited in the morning and another came in the evening. As he aged, they were able to up his care to 24 hours a day.
She laughs as she described him as a handful and, at times, stubborn. Instead of spending days arguing with him or unsuccessfully trying to get him to do something he didn't want to, she said his caregiver freed her and her sister to enjoy him.
"You just can't do it all. Something will give,'' Jackie said. "It was better for our relationship with Dad to bring someone in. That helped get rid of his resentment that we couldn't be there all the time and the guilt we had on our part.
"At least this way, we knew he was getting much better and more frequent care."
Jackie also looked forward to the daily reports the caregivers sent. They got reports not only on what her dad ate, but also on little changes in mood or temperament.
"They were there every day and saw things we may have missed," she said.
And for Sacha, having help meant spending more quality time with her mom.
"When I'd go on Sundays, I wanted to visit with Mom. I didn't want to be cleaning her bathroom,'' she said. "It was nice to just sit with her and visit. That was awesome."