The Complex Web of Senior Dementia Care: Gen X Style

By Staci Moore, Guest Columnist

The role of a caregiver in today’s society often falls on the shoulders of the so-called sandwich generation. This term describes individuals, typically from Generation X, who find themselves responsible for raising their own children while also caring for their aging parents. However, when the caregiving extends to a step-parent with whom the bonds are not born of a shared history but forged through circumstance, the role becomes even more intricate and emotionally complex.

Understanding the Sandwich Generation

The sandwich generation is caught in the middle, juggling the responsibilities of their immediate family and the needs of their elderly parents. For Gen X, this often involves navigating a world where traditional family structures are evolving, and caregiving roles are increasingly complex. In some cases there are 4 or even 5 generations existing with very different needs to address.

The Unique Position of Gen X

For those in Gen X, the challenge is two-fold. Not only do they face the pressure of being a part of the sandwich generation, but they also grapple with the nuances of caring for a step-parent, as our parents remarried bringing with them a pre-existing family, and sometimes no communication between the two.  In my case, my stepfather (my second), a late-stage dementia patient, represents a unique caregiving challenge. One challenge I was not expecting was triggers from my own past of a disconnected father that is now 12 years deceased and all of the words and actions left unsaid.  The emotional landscape of such a scenario is rich and multifaceted, involving love, duty, and a sense of moral obligation that transcends conventional familial bonds.

Stepping into the Role of Caretaker

Becoming a caretaker for a step-parent, particularly one with whom there are no shared childhood memories or long-standing bond, is a journey filled with unexpected challenges and emotional growth. For me, my stepfather, while not a figure from my past, has become a significant part of healing my past, recognizing the present and transforming my future. This transition from absence to prominence in one’s life highlights the capacity for human connections to evolve and deepen, even in the most unconventional circumstances. And although my mother is the primary caretaker, it’s undeniably how I got here.

Supporting the Primary Caregiver

At the heart of this experience is the desire to support the primary caregiver, my mother, to preserve her quality of life. While some have said this is noble, it underscores the complexities of caregiving within blended families, where the lines of responsibility and affection are redrawn and redefined.  One begins to internalize and acknowledge how important planning and freedom of time and money are. 

The Dynamics of Family Support

Navigating the dynamics of family support, or the lack thereof, adds another layer of complexity. With most of my stepfather’s biological children absent, the burden of care disproportionately falls on my mother and subsequently I have absorbed what I can. This scenario is all too common in many families, where the distribution of caregiving duties is uneven, often leading to emotional and physical strain on the primary caregivers. Medical support is a rubix cube of options that many 70 year olds find challenging to maneuver through, and shouldn’t have to.  Community support is thin, jobs only have but so much understanding,  and the financial responsibilities are blurred at best. 

The Medical Truth

The journey through dementia varies for each individual, necessitating different types of care facilities tailored to each stage of the disease. These facilities range from less intensive support environments for those in the early stages to more comprehensive care settings for advanced dementia. Here’s an overview of facility types corresponding to different dementia stages*:

  •  Independent Living Communities

  •  Assisted Living Facilities

  •  Nursing Homes

  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)

  • Adult Day Care Centers

  • Memory Care Units

  • Skilled Nursing Care

  • Hospice Care


When it comes to managing dementia, the medical options available aim to alleviate symptoms, slow the progression of the disease, and improve the quality of life for those affected. While there is currently no cure for dementia, several types of medication can help with cognitive symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion. Beyond pharmaceuticals, non-medication-based therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, and personalized activity programs can significantly contribute to managing daily challenges and supporting mental health. Lifestyle modifications, including a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and social engagement, are also encouraged to support overall brain health. It’s essential for caregivers and patients to work closely with healthcare providers to tailor a treatment plan that meets the individual’s needs and preferences.  Seeking naturopathic and integrative care options from institutions like the Riordan Clinic can also provide a piece of mind, health and overall wellness. 

The Psychological Impact

The psychological impact of such a role on the caregiving role and to those that support them cannot be overstated. It involves a constant balancing act between managing one’s own life and the needs of the primary caregiver. In my case, managing my life and my needs with those of my mother, stepfather, and other loved ones.  I’ve found my mother’s  journey and that of my own to be a testament to the human capacity for love, empathy, and resilience in the face of complex family dynamics. 

There is a struggle between the respect that I have for my mother and the humble care she gives my step-father and the desire I have to preserve every day, hour and minute of her life that I can by assisting with my step-father’s care.  This often results in making a blind sacrifice of self until being reminded that my needs and care have to remain top priority in order to truly support my mother. 

Legal and Financial Considerations

Beyond the emotional and physical aspects of caregiving, there are also legal and financial considerations. Planning for long-term care, especially for someone with late-stage dementia, involves navigating a maze of healthcare options, legal rights, and financial planning, further complicating the caregiver’s role. With mixed and blended families, finances can become even more of a nuanced dynamic. 

Creating a Support System

One of the key strategies in managing the demands of caregiving is creating a support system. Oftentimes we are left reaching out to extended family members, including brothers and sisters who may also be aging.  Creating an ever evolving and well rounded support system often involves leveraging community resources (including online options), embracing external help, and fostering connections with others in similar situations. The importance of a supportive network cannot be underestated in preserving the well-being of both the caregivers and the person receiving the care.

The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care for caregivers of dementia patients is crucial, not only for their own well-being but also to maintain the quality of care they are able to provide. Caregiving, especially caring for someone with dementia, can be emotionally taxing and physically demanding, making self-care an essential component of the caregiving journey. Here are some self-care strategies for caregivers that I’ve focused on:

Prioritize Your Health

  • Maintaining regular check-ups with healthcare providers to monitor health.
  • Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and ensuring adequate sleep to maintain physical health and energy levels.

Take Mental Health Breaks

  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation to reduce stress and improve mental clarity.
  • Engaging in hobbies or activities that bring enjoyment to relax and rejuvenate the mind.

Set Boundaries and Manage Time

  • Learning to say no to requests that are too demanding or beyond current capacity.
  • Using time management tools to organize care tasks and personal time effectively.

Seek Professional Help When Needed

  • Counseling or therapy to cope with the emotional stress of caregiving.
  • Exploring respite care options to take temporary breaks from caregiving duties.

Educate Yourself About Dementia

  • Understanding the disease and its progression to better manage care expectations and challenges.
  • Attending workshops or seminars on dementia care to learn coping strategies and care techniques.

Create a Safe, Supportive Environment

  • Adapting the home environment to make it safer for the dementia patient, reducing the stress of constant vigilance.
  • Using available resources and technologies to simplify caregiving tasks and enhance the patient’s quality of life.

Keep a Journal

  • Documenting the experiences and feelings as a therapeutic way to express emotions and reflect on the caregiving journey.

Plan for the Future

  • Preparing legally and financially for the future care of loved ones with dementia to reduce future stress and uncertainties.

Practice Gratitude

  • Focusing on positive moments and achievements, however small, to foster a sense of gratitude and fulfillment in the role of caregiving.

Self-care is not selfish; it’s a necessary aspect of being a caregiver. By taking care of your own needs, you’re ensuring that you have the physical energy, mental clarity, and emotional stability to provide the best possible care for your loved one. Reaching out for help and acknowledging your limits are signs of strength, not weakness.

Reflections on Love and Responsibility

The journey of caring for a late-stage dementia stepfather, a figure who entered my life not through shared history but through the bonds of marriage to my mother, is an emotional reflection of the complexities of family, love, and responsibility. It’s shown me the ability to find love in unexpected places and the depth of commitment that caregiving entails.

Being part of Gen X and the sandwich generation, there is an intricate web of emotional, physical, and legal challenges. Yet, within this web, there is also the opportunity for profound personal growth, deeper family connections, and the realization of the strength of the human spirit to love and care beyond the confines of traditional family roles.