Just as many of us start to enjoy our empty nests, we’re faced with a new dilemma: the possibility of moving an older parent into our homes. When a loved one can no longer live independently, there are a number of options available, ranging from in-home care to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
But recent statistics show that more people are choosing another path: moving their parents in with them. Whether it’s for economic reasons or a desire to keep the family close, the US Census Bureau notes that the number of parents living with their grown kids skyrocketed to more than 3.6 million in 2007 – up 67 percent from 2000. And while you may be used to having your grandchildren over for a visit, preparing your home – and lives – for an older person is entirely different.
So how can you decide if this is the best approach for your family? Take the time to consider the impact of the move from all perspectives. The fact is, any new addition to a home – whether a new baby or an older adult – can alter the dynamics of the household. This can be even more dramatic for us as grandparents, when the kids are finally out of the house and we’re finally ready to enjoy our lives after years of hard work. So having to suddenly care for an aging parent (or in-law) can come as an added and unexpected responsibility.
While you may start out with the best intentions, a misstep when it comes to a big move like this can have dramatic and long-lasting implications on your family, your marriage, your job and your relationship to the older adult. Because of this, it’s essential for everyone involved to weigh in before a move of this magnitude. Have an open and honest conversation about expectations and concerns with your mom or dad and with everyone living in your household. Nothing should be off limits. By trying to spare feelings at this stage, you’ll make things far more difficult for yourself down the road.
Some topics of discussion include…
- Caregiving responsibilities. Often, the burden of caregiving falls on the wife – who may also be taking care of the household and the kids, while working a full-time job herself. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many marriages dissolve because of the stress this puts on the woman and her relationship with her spouse. Discussing this in advance could literally save your marriage.
- Changes to the home. Will mom or dad have their own room/living area, or will they share space with others? Are pets in the home a concern? It’s also important for the entire home to be “elderproofed,” removing any hazards that might be dangerous to an older person.
- Financial issues. Will you be using your parent’s funds to pay for expenses, or will you need to use your own? Consider enlisting the help of an eldercare lawyer and financial advisor to avoid any liability down the road.
Services and support. Will extra help be needed for your loved one, such as an aide? What about planning for everyday services, like the hairdresser or nail salon? Or friends your parents may already have in their neighborhood? Plan ahead so that displacing mom or dad from their usual support system is not traumatic.
- Driving. Can mom or dad still drive – or a better question, should they still be driving? Taking the keys away from them can have major implications, especially if they feel that they are still independent.If they can still drive, can their car be made safer – for them, and for others on the road? And if they can no longer drive themselves, who will drive them to appointments, social engagements, etc.?
Overall, the most important question to ask is whether or not this move will ultimately improve the quality of life of both your parent and your family. Moving an elder relative into your home can be a wonderful experience – providing an unparalleled opportunity to tap into vast amounts of wisdom. If done right, it can be a wonderfully fulfilling experience for all. But you must have open and honest conversations up front to ensure that it’s a satisfying experience for all involved.
*Listen to Dr. Marion on National Public Radio.
*For the month of September 2010, in honor of Grandparents Day, Dr. Marion’s elder care apps for the iPhone will be available FREE on iTunes! Download them here today.
Dr. Marion Somers, Ph.D., is an elder care expert and the author of Elder Care Made Easieras well as the caregiving iPhone apps Elder 411 and Elder 911.