This post was written by Donna Thomson
There’s an exit called Anderson Road on Highway 417 that runs between Ottawa and Montreal. I know that exit well, because it’s the shortcut between my son’s care home on the outskirts of Ottawa and my Mother’s senior’s residence in the West Island of Montreal. I am a sandwich caregiver and I am not alone.
According to a recent Canadian study commissioned by Desjardins Financial, 20% of professional women are caring for children and elderly parents at the same time. 17% of male professionals report being in the same boat as well. Having children later in life is one factor that often equates to a heavy burden of caregiving responsibilities, but so does the increased longevity of our parents. And within that 20% of active sandwich caregivers, there will be a significant few who are caring for a child with disabilities or a parent with severe dementia. Some will even be trying to balance work with complex nursing tasks at home.
For the past two years, our son Nicholas has lived in his own ‘apartment’ (it’s really a care home with round the clock nursing). We visit Nick almost daily and the days we don’t drive out to see him, we chat over Skype. When my children were small, my mother would often come to stay. Sometimes, I would come home to find her on a ladder, outside my house – cigarette dangling jauntily from her lips. “Mum, what are you doing?! Get down from there!” I would demand, my voice becoming a soprano. “Your windows are dirty! They’re not going to wash themselves. By the way, where’s your ironing?” my mother would retort.
My mother is a bona-fide ‘character’ – she is stubborn, funny, acerbic, generous and fiercely loyal. But she’s also a frequent hospital inpatient for recurrent bouts of the super-bug C-difficil. She is 92 years old and sometimes, she is in very poor health. My sister and I tag-team to look after my Mum and every day, I give thanks that both my sister and my Mum live in the same city. I am a couple of hours away by car, so I can help, but I can’t be there immediately if there’s an emergency. I’m the second wave of reinforcements.
One thing I have learned from my sandwich caregiving experience is that I cannot do it alone. If I want to give good care to my family, I must share the care and I must do it efficiently and strategically. That’s where Tyze comes in. I have a Tyze network for Nicholas and another one for my Mum. The two networks look very different. Nick’s Tyze site has a fairly large network consisting of his paid care staff, our General Practitioner and our family. My Mum’s site is just me, my sister and a couple of paid, part-time helpers.
Although the Tyze sites for my mother and my son appear different, they perform the same function for our family – they give us peace of mind about the well-being of our beloved and vulnerable family members. In Nick’s case, it’s more to do with medications, seizure control and planned outings, while Mum’s site is about her memory and her eating habits. Nutrition is a huge issue for my mother, so her Tyze site is often a record of what she’s eaten and whether she’s had the energy to have a game of bridge. In both cases, when I check the Tyze sites, I often exhale audibly. I sigh with the relief of knowing that my beloved son and mother are both doing fine. Even if they’re not and there is a problem, I feel buoyed by reading the reports of others. It’s the next best thing to being there.
Tyze gives me the information I need to decide…. Do I drop everything and go? Sometimes I do and sometimes, I don’t. But with Tyze, I always make an informed decision. Sandwich caregiving is challenging, but it’s a lot easier with Tyze.