Aging Matters: The changing face of the sandwich generation

What comes to mind when someone talks about the “sandwich generation?”

The traditional picture is a generation of women between 40 and 60 who care for both older parents and children living at home.

But Maui’s picture is a little different and here are some of the reasons:

* In Maui and across the state, adults live longer than adults on the Mainland. This means there can be as many as five generations living at the same time.

* Child care expenses are high. This means grandparents and often great-grandparents help with child care.

* Cost of living is high on Maui. This means that it’s common for several generations to live together and share expenses.

* The cultures in Maui honor older generations. This contributes to many families caring for kupuna at home instead of using a care facility.

* Families are affected by deployments, divorce, multiple jobs and incarceration. This means grandparents, aunties and uncles and other ohana care for the keiki.

* And the list goes on. What would you add?

Because Maui is unique, so is our sandwich generation. Some have even renamed the “sandwiches” to traditional, club and open face. Let’s take a look at some local sandwich families:

* Great grandma is 87 and has memory loss. She lives with her daughter, Lei, who is 62 and retired early to care for her mom. Lei’s daughter was just laid off at work and has moved in with her two children.

* Nani has returned from the Mainland to care for her mother, who has severe diabetes and her grandmother, who has congestive heart failure.

* Lynn and Kawika are in their 50s. Her grandmother is in her 90s, lives on her own, but needs help with cooking and shopping. His parents just moved back to Maui. They are healthy now and putting together plans for future caregiving needs. Their twins are sophomores in high school and beginning to think about college.

* Last month, Tutu fell. It’s taking time to heal. Everyone -the children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren -share in the caregiving tasks. They are grateful to help Tutu and learning to balance the new responsibilities.

Maui is rich with organizations that focus on helping the sandwich generation.

Grandparents and great- grandparents, who are raising grandchildren (part or full time), can join Maui Family Support Service’s monthly support groups – Raising Our Keiki’s Keiki (R.O.K.K.).

The Hi’i Na Kupuna Coalition develops resources and support for grandparents and other relative caregivers on Maui and is always looking for grandparents to join. They also offer programs during summer and spring break when grandfamilies need a little extra help. Monthly workshops for grandparents and their grandchildren are held at the University of Hawaii-Manoa Cooperative Extension Office in Kahului.

For more information about grandfamily resources, call 244-3242, ext. 226.

The first stop for older adults and their families is the Maui County Office on Aging. The MCOA staff conducts comprehensive in-home assessments, identifies services to help the older adult and his/her caregivers, and connects them with the right organizations. Some of these services include Meals on Wheels, caregiver respite and personal care. Maui is leading the state in this one-stop approach to older adults. Instead of the old model that required families to visit many offices, it’s now more streamlined. Families are benefitting greatly from MCOA’s willingness to lead the way in Hawaii. Call MCOA today to learn more at 270-7774.

Resources and support are available for the sandwich generation. Whether your ohana looks more like the traditional sandwich or has a few extra layers, a few phone calls can help guide you to the answers you need.

* Heather Greenwood is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters will cover topics of interest to the aging Maui community and will appear on the third Sunday of each month.