By Dr. Karen Campbell – Sponsored by 3M Canada
If you find yourself looking after your elderly parents while also supporting your own family, you are a member of the Sandwich Generation. According to Statistics Canada, there are more than 2 million Canadians in this situation.
There’s no question that caring for an ageing parent can be very challenging, especially when there are multiple demands on your time and attention. At the same time, you will want to ensure that your loved one receives the best possible care.
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To help the Sandwich Generation succeed at this task, here is a little bit of advice:
Become an advocate for your parent
You know them as your father or your mother, but you must also think of them as a patient. As their caregiver, it’s your role to advocate for their needs and work to ensure they receive optimum care.
Here in Canada, we are fortunate to have a fantastic medical system. But there is a very important role for the caregiver who will pay close attention to the needs of the patient and work with health care staff to resolve issues that you as the caregiver identify, to ensure your family member gets the care they require.
This is a big responsibility – especially where the patient has difficulty communicating verbally. In that case, you must read the body language and look for physical signs – for instance, if getting up out of bed appears to cause them pain.
You have an insight into the needs of the patient so don’t hesitate to share your views with your parent’s doctor. Speaking up early can prevent a slight problem from becoming a major one.
Pay attention to skin
We frequently forget about our own skin, an incredibly important organ. And when we care for our parents, we often forget to pay attention to their skin as well.
Keeping the skin intact is crucial. When your skin breaks down, you are at increased risk for infection and pain. You can have issues with skin tears, pressure injuries (sometimes called sores), and a lot of pain can result.
If you have the right knowledge and act in time, this can often be prevented. A simple step that caregivers can take is to apply moisturizer to your parent’s skin twice a day and apply a skin barrier in vulnerable areas of the skin.
One issue that elderly patients frequently suffer from is incontinence – this can cause skin to become irritated and chapped. We give this skin irritation the technical name “incontinence-associated dermatitis” (IAD), sometimes known as adult diaper rash. 3M™ has developed its Cavilon™ line of skin care products to help prevent exactly this problem. The 3M Cavilon™ line of skin care products includes: a no rinse skin cleanser, two barrier products which also have moisturizing properties, and a new unique product, Cavilon™ Advanced Skin Protectant, designed to protect wet skin.
Think about your own health as well
Members of the Sandwich Generation are particularly susceptible to caregiver burnout. If you are looking after your children while also caring for your parent, you would be forgiven for feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Realize that no one wins if you become exhausted. You have a responsibility to take good care of your own health needs and to make sure you are getting rest.
If you feel stress building up, address it. Learn to spot the warning signs so you can minimize your stress before it becomes a problem. Different stress relievers work for different people – I find spending time in nature or taking part in a yoga class can help. Others de-stress by meeting a friend for coffee or taking some time away.
Nutrition is so important – both for you and your parent. Ask your doctor to refer you to a nutritionist if you are in doubt about the right foods to prepare.
You are not alone
The biggest tip I would give caregivers is to surround themselves as much as possible with friends and other family members who can help out. Should you need to travel, if someone else has been involved in providing care, they will be able to step in. Don’t take everything on yourself.
It’s also key to note that you are not expected to have all the answers. Ask your parent’s doctor or nurse if you have queries – keep a list of questions so you can get through many issues in one conversation.
There are also many helpful online resources – a good place to start is Health Canada’s Division of Aging and Seniors website, with information on federal programs, as well as the Canadian Continence Foundation.
Dr Karen Campbell PhD, RN, is an adjunct professor for the Masters of Clinical Science in Wound Healing at Western University in London, Ontario. She is the President-elect for the International Skin Tear Advisory Panel. Dr. Campbell has been involved in developing a variety of skin health guidelines in Canada as well as internationally. She is working with 3M Canada to promote greater awareness of skin health. If you think you or your parent might be suffering from IAD, talk to a doctor or nurse. More information about Cavilon is available on the 3M Canada website.