Allen co-writes guide for women in 'sandwich generation'

Allen co-writes guide for women in 'sandwich generation'

CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign financial adviser recently cowrote a guide to help "sandwich generation" women care for aging relatives while also tending to children.

Sharon Allen, the president of Sterling Wealth Management, helped assemble the resource-rich guide for the Family Wealth Advisors Council. Collaborating with her on the 36-page "white paper" was Dennis Stearns, president of the Stearns Financial Group in Greensboro, N.C.

The title of the guide: "Caught in the Middle: How Does The Sandwich Generation Woman Not Get Squeezed?"

Allen said that although she doesn't find herself in that role now, she is "on the leading edge" as she watches her parents age.

"While I don't live near my parents, I am the oldest in my family and can envision family members looking to me for help with my parents as they age," she said.

In the guide, Allen and Stearns write that the keys to success in care-giving are planning, having the right support team and keeping balance in life.

Citing statistics from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, the authors describe the typical sandwich-generation woman as in her 40s or 50s.

She "spends at least 20 hours a week raising children and caring for aging family members, often working at least part-time on her own career as well," they add.

As a result of time devoted to care-giving, such women stand to lose an average of $324,044 in lifetime earnings and Social Security benefits.

Allen and Stearns say the stress of care-giving can take as much as 20 years off a caregiver's life, citing a study by Elissa Epel of the University of California at San Francisco.

To ease that stress, the coauthors suggest that people begin working with parents or aging family members before signs of dementia appear. That includes talking with them about aging, getting finances in order and understanding the housing options available to them.

Be sure to start talking about those if there's an obvious decline in mental or physical ability, a change in behavior or routine, or a troubling incident, such as a car accident or memory lapse, Allen and Stearns advise.

"Denial and resistance are normal issues with the aging individual," they write. "Therefore, make every effort to sharpen your own communications skills."

The planning checklist should include:

— Determining the primary contact in the family for planning.

— Locating wills and health care directives.

— Listing advisers, such as attorneys, doctors, accountants and insurance agents.

— Reviewing finances and key documents.

— Monitoring checking and credit card statements for potential abuses and unusual patterns.

— Creating a list of medications, dosages and the prescribing physicians.

They also suggest researching the relative's long-term care insurance to see what it covers and doing some self-education on what Medicare and Medicaid cover.

Allen and Stearns also recommend creating a care plan for how the relative may transition to additional care as needs increase. That means researching options such as in-home care, independent living, assisted living, nursing homes and continuing-care retirement communities.

Relatives should also consider "aging in place" by staying in their homes. That means, of course, means making sure the home is safe and stays in reasonable repair.

"As a home ages, more things break — many homeowners don't think about all the hidden costs of owning an older home," Allen and Stearns write. "Without significant home modification, seniors may be less safe as they age."

For those considering caring for an older relative in their own homes, Allen and Stearns suggest:

— Promoting a calm environment with little commotion.

— Maintaining a regular routine, including outside activities that keep you, the caregiver, mentally healthy.

Allen and Stearns also recommend putting together a good support team, including a financial adviser, an estate attorney, an accountant and perhaps a geriatric care manager — often a social worker or nurse experienced in dealing with older adults.

Allen said she's "keenly aware" that not everyone can afford a team of professionals. As a result, she tried to suggest helpful resources in the guide, with additional resources available on the Family Wealth Advisors Council website.

The coauthors also encourage people caring for older relatives to take a look at themselves and ask a few questions:

— Are you feeling resentment, anger or helplessness?

— Are you eating more, sleeping less, losing your sense of humor or letting your relationships deteriorate?

If so, get help from a personal assistant or someone on your support team — or consider joining a support group.

Other helpful tips: If your energy level is low, remember that most people can effectively work on a project up to 90 minutes before needing a break. Address the more difficult tasks when you are alert and focused, then relax and rejuvenate when your energy is lower. Try to maintain good eating habits, get quality sleep and regular exercise.

"Even when you know what to expect, the emotional toll may be unexpected," Allen and Stearns say in the guide.

If practical, try to involve the younger generation in caring for the older relative.

Allen and Stearns note that more adults between the ages of 25 and 34 years old are living with their parents. To make things easier on the home front and free up time for aging relatives, the collaborators suggest:

— Creating a household chore list, including jobs young children can do.

— Establishing a family calendar so family members know what others are doing.

— Forming a list of expectations and house rules for adult children at home.

— Sharing the financial burden of running the household with any adult children at home.

The guide is available for purchase on Amazon, and links to it appear on Allen's biography at Members of the Family Wealth Advisors Council have hard copies of the guide to share with people with whom they work.

Allen is a Certified Financial Planner as well as a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Stearns, who is also a Certified Financial Planner, formerly played on a Pan-American chess team and still plays up to 30 people at a time to raise money for children's charities.


For those helping older relatives deal with aging

— "How to Say It To Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders" by David Solie.

— "The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People who Have Alzheimer's Disease, Related Dementias and Memory Loss" by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins.


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