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SPRINGVILLE — It’s called the Sandwich Generation — people who are still raising their kids at home while also caring for their aging parents.
An influx of baby boomers and advanced medical technology is contributing to this development. “They’re living longer, but they are living with more complicated illnesses as well,” said Intermountain Healthcare’s Dr. Ericka Noonan, a geriatrician at Utah Valley Hospital.
More and more people are finding themselves in this situation, including Lydia Ruttenbur.
She is a mother of 10, with five still under the age of 18, and a grandma to twin baby girls who also live in her home. Additionally, she cares for her 73-year-old mother, Peggy, who has dementia.
“About four years ago we started noticing that something wasn’t right,” Lydia Ruttenbur said.
She moved her mom into her home for full-time care.
Today, Peggy thinks Lydia Ruttenbur is her mother. “It’s a little weird to be the mom of your mom,” she described.
But, she cares for Peggy as if she is. She dresses Peggy, feeds Peggy and helps her get to the bathroom.
“When I did this, I said, ‘You know what? I’m a mom and I still need to raise my children,” Ruttenbur explained. “I can’t have my life wrapped around my mom.”
To lighten her load, she asks her kids for help. Her 13-year-old son, Jakob Ruttenbur, is usually the first one out of bed each morning. He gives Peggy her morning pills and makes her breakfast.
“Sometimes I get her toast. I get her eggs … She always comes around and says ‘That food was so good,’” Jakob Ruttenbur said. “It not only gives me something to do, but it helps me think she’s happy.”
“We all saw things which we liked to do with her,” Lydia Ruttenbur explained. Her daughters, Alissa and Hillari Ruttenbur, call dibs on TV time with Peggy. Watching "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Andy Griffith Show" are household favorites.
Her other daughter takes Peggy on walks outside to get some fresh air. Breaking up the various chores and activities gives Lydia Ruttenbur time to homeschool her kids and to be a mom.
“Having the stress of caring for an aging parent increases the caregiver's risk of chronic illness themselves or depression,” Noonan said.
She said it's important for caregivers to make time for exercise, meditation, sleep and to ask for help.
“We encourage people to ask their family members (for help), to explain to them the stress that they’re experiencing … to ask their neighbors for help, to ask their church groups for help. Asking for help is hard, but so important,” Noonan said.
She encourages caregivers to reach out for help from caregiver support groups, local senior centers, the Veterans Affairs, or local agencies on aging which offer programs like Senior Companions and Meals on Wheels. Noonan said these agencies can also connect qualifying families with additional caregiver support in the home.
“Patients health suffers if the caregiver is not taking care of themselves,” Noonan said.
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Lydia Ruttenbur admits some days are longer than others.
“But it’s grandma and that’s what you do with your family and you love your family and you want to help them so it’s not so bad. It’s not such a burden,” she said.
She makes it work one day at a time and said she doesn’t regret her decision.
“Our whole lives, my mom always begged us to never put her in a home, so I’m glad that I get to care for her,” she said in tears.