I feel like I’m running on fumes. Heather Bolden on the challenges – and rewards – of being a sandwich generation caregiver.

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Heather Bolden is a family caregiver in her early 50’s from Farmington, Minnesota. She’s both a caregiver to her mom AND a single mom to her teenage son. She’s proud to be able to provide care for both, but the struggle to make ends meet and be there for them both no matter what is full of hidden costs.

“I know I’m not the only one. There are millions of us in our country struggling to make caregiving work — but despite this, there are so few resources out there for family caregivers. Between caring for my mom and making sure my son has what he needs, I often feel like I’m running on fumes, and my own health has taken a downturn.”

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seven years ago, my life changed dramatically. I quit my job, sold my house and moved in with her, and became her caregiver. Oh, and I’m a single mom to a teenage son, too. While I didn’t think it would be easy, I underestimated the physical, emotional, and financial toll that caring for my mom would take.

Before I became my mom’s caregiver, I was working full-time as a paralegal, making a comfortable salary. Now I work part-time from home and my income has been slashed in half, in order to be there for my mom and manage her care and the seemingly endless doctor’s visits and appointments. The costs of care add up — but right at the time when we need financial stability the most, I find myself worrying over every penny. My own retirement security is now at risk; I turn 50 this year, but I cashed out my 401(k) to help cover some of my mom’s medical bills. I wish people understood how expensive caregiving can be. We live paycheck to paycheck.

I know I’m not the only one. There are millions of us in our country struggling to make caregiving work — but despite this, there are so few resources out there for family caregivers. Between caring for my mom and making sure my son has what he needs, I often feel like I’m running on fumes, and my own health has taken a downturn. Here’s just one example: I’ve been putting off shoulder surgery for months. I can’t afford to not work, and plus, who would care for my mom during the time I would need to recover from surgery? Sometimes, all I want is just a day to myself. Not a vacation or a weekend trip anywhere, just a few hours without the demands of caregiving. But none of the (limited) programs my mom has access to cover respite care.

Despite how hard it is, I don’t regret making the choice to care for my mom. We’re family, and the thought of my mom being warehoused in a low-quality and understaffed nursing home terrifies me. I will do everything it takes to make sure that she can remain safe and happy at home, surrounded by everything she loves, for as long as possible. Most caregivers have no regrets about caring for their loved ones — what we want is for it to not be this hard.

Everywhere one turns, there are gaping holes in what are supposed to pass for resources. I’ve come to realize that we are not prepared for the growing number of older adults like my mom who will need assistance to live with dignity as they age. We all want our parents and grandparents to age well, be safe, and be happy — yet as a nation, we are refusing to acknowledge what needs to be done.

As a caregiver myself, I feel a sense of responsibility to advocate for changes in policy for all the
family caregivers who will come after me. It is very, very necessary.

Follow the stories and experiences of Heather and others and join in the conversations about how we create community and break the isolation of caregivers on our Facebook page and on Twitter using the hashtags #WeKnowYouCare and #NationalCaregiversMonth.

November 1 — Leighann Gillis
November 2 — Claire Unsinn
November 3 — Lee Giles
November 4 — Skip Worchester
November 5 — Debbie Borque
November 6 — Miri Lyons
November 16 — Aisha Adkins

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