The sixth annual Women's Wellness Forum's primary focus was to help women take the time to take care of themselves, but there was also a session designed to answer questions about taking care of others.
Christy Walton, parent liaison for the Payson School District's elementary schools, presented a program on "The Sandwich Generation" -- the group of adults who are taking care of both their children and their aging parents.
"Somebody wanted to hear more about how it affects ... when you have both young children and an aging parent in the same household, how it affects the parent ... and the impact it has on the younger generation," Walton said.
"The main question is how do you accommodate a parent who doesn't want to do what you know is really best for them and they're stubborn," she said. "Then (there is) the role reversal (problem). How do you overcome becoming the one who makes the decisions for them and still give them their dignity? ... It's a painful situation for a lot of these folks."
"I compare it to parenting," Walton said. "You need to help them with their self-esteem, they need a lot of love, they need a lot of reassurance."
She said like child-proofing a house, you can older-proof a house. The elderly can be surrounded with successes rather than focusing on limitations.
Walton recommends a book in the Payson Public Library, "Home Sweet Home, How to Help Older Adults Live Independently," that shows an array of devices and techniques to help "older-proof" a house -- lever handles on doors rather than the traditional round door knobs, because levers are easier to manage; clappers to turn lights and appliances off and on; getting thicker handles on brushes and combs, forks, spoons and knives.
"Their dexterity is so limited," she explained. "Little tips that can be done right now that could help their parent feel a little bit more in control, even though they are losing so much control."
Walton said her sessions were small, so there was lots of discussion and the participants had a lot of input from each other.
She said there was one woman who has lived the epitome of this and is also dealing with her own cancer. Walton said the woman was so inspiring, she asked if she could stay for all three sessions.
Part of the advice the woman gave was, "Sometimes it's just got to be tough love. You just have to say this is what you have to do. But you don't always have to correct your parent, you have to come to a place where it's OK to placate them, then go ahead and do what you know what you need to do.
"It's not easy, but you cannot accommodate every whim, because they are confused and they are in danger in some cases."
"The main thing is they need to take care of their own needs first. They feel guilty. Guilt is huge. Don't allow that to bond you into this commitment. If you're not good to yourself, you're not good for anyone else. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take of anyone else. That came up a lot."
She said she was happy to let them know about the tremendous amount of resources that are available locally.
"I told them, ‘you're not going to leave here going ‘Oh right! Now I know how to fix it.' but you're going to leave here knowing you're not alone, that there is help and that it's not easy. But there are a lot of people in the same situation.' And sometimes it helps just knowing that."
The idea of "The Sandwich Generation" was developed and explained by Carol Abaya, a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, and her work was the foundation of Walton's presentation. She said she also was able to get a great deal of information through publications and internet sites of the federal government and the American Association of Retired Persons.
Solutions for the varying problems and challenges of multi-generational households might include:
- Clarify the house rules -- eating schedules, household responsibilities (i.e. cleaning, laundry, transportation, when the house should be quiet in the evening); review from time to time to accommodate changing circumstances.
- Have a weekly family meeting to keep the communication going and conflicts to a minimum.
- Prepare a long-range financial plan that includes who is financially responsible for what, keep a detailed budget.
- Use available community programs and services.
- Agree on a target date for departure for your young adult.
- Respect one another's privacy.
- Take care of your own family, your marriage, and especially, take care of yourself.