Newswise — Much has been said about the Sandwich Generation, that group of people tasked with simultaneously caring for aging parents and raising – or still supporting – their own children.

Although it may be difficult to imagine refusing to care for a loved one when they’re in need, it’s important to understand the toll such caretaking may have before agreeing to take it on. That’s where Texas Tech University professor Charlene Kalenkoski’s new study comes in.

“Americans are not planning well for retirement – indeed, retirees often find themselves in informal caregiving roles they may not have prepared for,” said Kalenkoski, director of the Retirement Planning and Living Research Initiative in the Texas Tech University Department of Personal Financial Planning.

“The goal of this research is to examine how caregiving affects the well-being of retirees and show what the negative effects are. In particular, if people do not want to suffer a reduction in their own well-being that will occur once they take on a caregiving role, they may want to purchase long-term-care insurance or make other financial arrangements long before such care is needed.”

Communication, she said, is key – for everyone involved.

“People need to talk to their relatives early and often about what sort of informal care they expect when they age, because people often have unmet expectations,” Kalenkoski said. “They also may want to inform their children that they do not want to take on a heavy caregiving load with respect to their grandchildren.”

Those to whom the caregiving role falls need to understand how it may affect their own well-being so that, if they choose, they can plan ahead for other types of care.

“People need to be informed about other options besides informal caregiving, such as long-term-care insurance. Waiting and seeing what happens – an approach taken by many – is probably not wise,” Kalenkoski said. “Society seems to think that because retirees are not working, they should not experience a reduction in well-being when they give care. However, this research shows that this is not the case.”

Kalenkoski’s research shows that men are more worried when they’re engaged in caregiving than when they’re engaged in other activities. Women, on the other hand, are happier and experience less worry and pain when caregiving than when doing other activities. One possible explanation for this is that women are frequently the caregivers earlier in life so they have simply developed better strategies and coping mechanisms than men have.

However, an alternative or complementary reason is that men are less likely to report any emotions,” she explained. “They may be more comfortable reporting worry than happiness, sadness, tiredness and pain, for example.”

The results complement those found in previous studies, Kalenkoski said, which both lends credibility to them and helps paint a more realistic picture of the caregiving situation.

“If we find the same results with different data and different measures, we as a society should perhaps be doing something to relieve the burden of our older, retired caregivers,” she said.

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CONTACT: Charlene Kalenkoski, professor and director, Retirement Planning and Living Research Initiative, Department of Personal Financial Planning, College of Human Sciences, Texas Tech University, (806) 834-1211 or [email protected]