The Sandwich Generation During COVID

June 22, 2021

The Sandwich Generation During COVID

COVID-19 has been especially hard for the Sandwich Generation - three generation families. According to JF&CS Geriatric Care Management Manager Debbi Dooley, parents of school-aged children who have also been caring for their aging parents have been required to juggle decision-making for two populations whose lives were heavily impacted by the pandemic. “They had so many people to protect. Their elder loved ones were often isolated, fearing a virus that was deadly for their age group. At the same time, they were faced with making decisions about how to best access education for their children, who were either home-schooling or taking the risk of going to in-person school.”

Uncertainties, Concerns and Resilience

During the pandemic, families with both elders and school age children had to walk a tight-rope – they wanted to take an active role in caring for their parents but had to relinquish that role and learn to trust their parent’s congregate living communities. Grandparents also yearned to be with their grandchildren. This was difficult for all three generations, but the burden of decision often rested with the middle generation.

“We saw a great deal of concern for protecting elders in the family. Parents prohibited visits between their children and their parents, for fear of risking the elders’ health. No one wanted to be that person who exposed their aging parents to Covid by bringing the grandchildren to visit." Communication with elders was also challenging. Multigenerational visits were accomplished through glass windows and doors, over Zoom (sometimes with technology difficulties), or over the phone - a challenge for elders who might not hear well. Debbi energetically added, “I also saw a lot of resilience and resourcefulness that surfaced during the pandemic. Elders and their families found creative ways to accomplish visits safely. Staff in congregate living communities struggled greatly but for the most part, they really rose to the occasion.”

How the easing of restrictions has affected the sandwich generation

Just as the presence of COVID-19 restrictions sometimes led to more questions than answers, so has the loosening of those mandates. “Early on, people were frustrated by lack of cohesive messages from leadership about what’s safe and what’s not – they had to figure out a lot for themselves. As they experience the expansiveness of reopening, they still must do figure out what’s safe, both for their children and elders,” Debbi observed. Now, people are learning how to lower their guard and reintegrate into the world. One elder reflected, “I spent a lot of time digging myself into this hole, and now I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in it, so I’ll have to learn how to dig back out. But I’ll do it wearing my mask.”

Debbi recommends that both caregivers and elders take their time with making changes. She also suggests making decisions with input from people they trust. Some older adults become more concrete in their thinking, and it may take more time for them to adjust and to accept change. JF&CS can help with that.

JF&CS Aviv Older Adult Services and AgeWell Atlanta offer layers of assistance to families with elders through a variety of supportive services - Geriatric Care Management, case management, support for Holocaust survivors, One Good Deed volunteers, caregiver support groups, home-sharing services, and supportive counseling for elders. There are also a host of events, activities, and social groups through AgeWell that can help elders prepare for future transitions, as they become open to our evolving lifestyles.

If you’re interested in joining any of the programs offered by JF&CS, call 770-677-9300.