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The Sandwich Generation

According to the Pew Research Center, one of every eight Americans aged 40 to 60 is raising a child and caring for a parent, either physically, financially or both. Seven to 10 million adults are caring for aging parents from a long distance.

This midlife group is called the Sandwich Generation, a term added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2006. In some cases, kids go off to college, leaving mom and dad in an "empty nest." In other cases, elderly parents need help and kids come home again, sometimes with children of their own.

When Brenda Jindra looked in the mirror a few years ago, she saw the image of a working woman who was one of those 16 million in the U.S. who fit the profile of the Sandwich Generation.

What else could there be? Oh, yeah. The husband or wife. And the kids—many in the teen years that are often more demanding than elementary school children.

"Yes, sure, I'll answer questions about the sandwich generation, I lived it," Jindra told OfficePro. Like millions of other midlife professionals, Jindra, the current president of the MN-SD-ND division, was sandwiched between the needs of different generations. She struggled to be a good employee, a good mom, a good spouse and a good child to her parents.

Holding On and Letting Go
For Jindra, the spiral began more than a decade ago when her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He was eventually moved to a care facility and died in 2010.

"I really started to step up and help my mom care for dad during that time," she said. In that same time, two daughters became teenagers, her husband's business was growing, her career was in transition and her mother's health was threatened.

"Actually, the day I found out mom had kidney cancer, I was starting a new position," she said. "I told them ‘I don't know what the next few weeks or months are going to bring.' And I absolutely had the best employer ever."

Today, her mother is cancer-free, though watchful. One daughter has graduated from high school, another from college with a nursing degree. Jindra helps with her husband's business and continues a history of leadership with IAAP's Brainerd, Minn. Chapter. She was promoted to grants compliance manager with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Tribal Government, the same employer she had when the personal challenges began.

And when Jindra looks in the mirror today, she sees a different person.

She said she has learned to prioritize, to hold on to what matters most and let go of what matters less.

"There was definitely a time when I didn't have my priorities, In the early onset, I didn't have it together. I got upset about a lot of things," she said. "But the challenges have made us a stronger family because we had to appreciate the quality time we had together. It taught me to take a breath and look at the life around me." 

Managing Midlife Challenges
For millions of working people like Jindra, the challenges of midlife can quickly change and catapult you into a category called the Sandwich Generation. You fit the profile if you are "sandwiched" between the demands of the workplace and the changing needs of a multi-generation family.

The circumstances can pull you, your family and your finances apart, especially if changes are unexpected and unforeseen. Try to avoid surprises by educating yourself and finding programs and assistance to help you through trying times.

Get familiar with the Family Medical Leave Act. That was a saving grace for Jindra during the years her children reached college age and her parents needed special care.

"That allowed me to keep my job. My husband and I both needed to work in order for us to survive and pay for health insurance. It wasn't an option to leave my job."
To offset the financial strain and heartbreak, it helps to find support groups and information. To lessen the load, take these steps:   

Get The Facts
Talk to your parents about how they're doing financially and what plans they've made if they become ill or incapacitate and investigate long-term care insurance or savings to cover the costs of assisted living or extended day care.

Get a grip on your own financial needs if you haven't already done so. There are a number of sources, including AARP, that offer tools for calculating how much money you'll need for retirement, including supplemental health insurance. Ask Social Security for benefit projections.

Search out reputable financial advisors to guide you toward retirement years. Knowledge is power. They can help you with planning and projections, including the cost of college for your children.    

Get The Power
If an emergency arises, you'll need legal authority to act swiftly on your parents' behalf. Ask your parents to authorize Power of Attorney to sign checks, pay bills, make financial and health care decisions and protect the wishes of their living will.

If you live long distance from your parents, find a reputable money manager to complete routine tasks.

Arrange for papers and documents to be located in a central place. Suze Orman's fireproof kit is helpful. It's so much easier to find what you need in an emergency if it's all in one place.

Find out what federal, state and local benefits your parents qualify for. The range of
government-sponsored and social service programs varies by country.

If You Need Help

Here's a list of recognized programs, services and helpful organizations in the U.S. Some online resources are international. In Canada, find answers to frequently-asked questions at servicecanada.gc.ca.

American Association of Daily Money Managers
This organization may be especially helpful if you live far from your parents. A daily money manager will pay bills, make deposits, process insurance claims and handle other financial tasks that parents may no longer be up to doing.

American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living
Comprehensive advice and information to help elders plan, prepare, choose and pay for a nursing home or an assisted-living center.

Assisted Living Federation of America
This is a site for researching living centers by area and operating company. Click on Senior Living Options to get started.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
You'll find a wealth of information and resources, including Programs of All-Inclusive Care for Elderly/PACE.

Children of Aging Parents
An online support group with helpful links, referrals, special programs and a quarterly newsletter

Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living
A non-profit organization that advocates for high-quality assisted living facilities and for the rights of residents with insight on how to choose the right assisted living center.

360 Degrees of Financial Literacy
Online site with tips, worksheets and tools designed for boomers who are simultaneously facing retirement and caring for children and aging parents.

Elder Care Locator
Sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging, this site provides links to the agency closest to your parents' home. That regional office then leads you to local senior service agencies. Chat online or call the number provided, toll free.

Family Medical Leave Act/FMLA - U.S. Department of Labor
Eligible employees may be allowed up to 12 work weeks leave within a 12-month period for specified circumstances.

Government Benefits
Check if your parents are eligible for benefits and get contact information for helpful programs. Fill out the questionnaire to determine which programs are appropriate for you and your parents' situation.  

Hospice Foundation of America
Not-for-profit organization providing hospice and a humane and compassionate philosophy of care for the terminally ill and their families.

Find an interactive tool for comparing Medicare Prescription Drug Plans, tips for lowering costs in the coverage gaps and more. 

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
Find a listing for attorneys who specialize in issues concerning the elderly.

National Adult Day Services Association
On this site, click on Locate an Adult Day Service, then enter city and state information to explore resources in your area.

National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
Go here for referrals to elder care pros who can assess medical needs and finances, then identify local programs and services that help meet those needs.

National Council on Aging
This site asks, "How can I help you?" and makes it easy to find answers. It also identifies public and private benefit programs for qualifying adults over age 55.

Retirement Worksheets
Interactive education and links to information, calculators, worksheets and other interactive tools from financial advisors.

Tax Counseling
aarp.org and IRS.gov
Free income tax preparation and advice from volunteers working with the IRS Tax Counseling for the Elderly program.

(Sources: Independent research and CNNMoney.com)