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Just over one in every eight Americans age 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent. It is estimated that between 7,000,000 to 10,000,000 adults are caring for their aging parents from a long distance. The Sandwich Generation is the generation of adults caring for both a child and an aging parent.

Carol Abaya categorizes the different scenarios involved in being a part of the sandwich generation: (1) Traditional: those sandwiched between the aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children; (2) Club sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents; and (3) Open faced: anyone else involved in eldercare.

However you are sandwiched, when your parents were younger they probably functioned well enough as a team and did not need your assistance to live their lives.  But as your parents get older and cope with the death of a spouse, (statistics indicate it is usually the husband who passes away first) your relationship changes and living alone may be very traumatic for your mom, the surviving wife.  She not only has lost a lifelong partner, but she also must develop new routines around the house and a different way of interacting with family and friends.  A son or daughter’s visit to a recently widowed parent, particularly when the son or daughter has their own children, can be very difficult.  Below is a checklist to guide you and your newly solo Mom (or Dad) to determine if assistance may be needed to assist Mom who is now living alone:

1. Is it safe for your aging parent to drive? Take a ride with your Mom or Dad and let them drive. Can they drive safely?  Can they find their way to the new restaurant that they heard about from their friends?  Does the car have any unexplained dents or scratches?  This is a very delicate and difficult subject because the loss of the ability to drive is associated with a loss of independence. If you feel that it is no longer safe for your parent to drive and you believe your Mom or Dad will resent you for even introducing the subject, have their physician discuss the issue. Their Doctor should be able to give medical reasons why it is unsafe for them to continue driving.  Discuss with your Mom or Dad  alternative transportation arrangements that may be used if Mom or Dad stop driving.

2. Is the mail piling up? If the mail is piling up, then it may be because your Mom can no longer understand what the mail says or how to pay the bills.  In addition to the obvious risk of the lights being turned off, there is also the risk of financial exploitation by third parties.  Gently review the financial records with your aging parent not by asking them if they need help, but by asking them to show you what bills need to be paid and how they should be paid in the event something does happen and they require assistance.  Remember that Mom has a right to refuse your assistance and access to her bills and financial information. Explain to Mom or Dad that you only wish to discuss their bills and finances to have a better understanding if you ever need to assist in the future.

3. Are prescriptions being taken as needed and in the correct dose? Check medications to see how often they are being refilled.  Ask your Mom what medication she takes, how often, and why? Make sure to confirm with her Doctor that she has answered appropriately. Note you will need your parent’s permission or a Health Care Power of Attorney to authorize the release of medical information to you.

4. Is the house being maintained? Is the house set up to prevent falls?  Is a discolored ceiling a sign of a water leak?  Is a formerly spotless house now messy?  Has the grass been cut?  Are carpets loose or are their other tripping hazards in the home?  Lack of maintenance may indicate a lack of ability to properly maintain the home.  Falls are a significant risk for the elderly and you should carefully examine the property for any tripping hazards.

5. Is your Mom eating right? Ask your parent about meals and what he or she cooks. Is the food in the refrigerator stale or expired?  Is it full of TV dinners or repeats of the same item?  If it is, then your Mom may not be eating right or forgetting what she has already purchased.  Meals may need to be delivered to the home or you may need to make other arrangements for appropriate nutrition.

We are “sandwiched” between our own lives and children and wanting what is best for Mom or Dad. Using this checklist should help indicate when in home assistance may be required if Mom wishes to continue to live in her home or, in the alternative, that living at home may not be the best arrangement.

Remember that as long as Mom has the capacity to make her own decisions, she may continue to make her own decisions regarding her finances and health care without consulting with family or friends. If you are concerned about Mom’s ability to make her own decisions, it may be helpful to speak with qualified Elder Law attorneys who may be able to assist your Mom and her family meet the changing circumstances.

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