It’s a decision a growing number of families will face, especially as the baby boomers get older. Your mom or dad is starting to show signs of physical or cognitive decline. They seem less happy and secure living on their own than they used to. Sooner or later for millions of families the question will arise: is it time to ask your aging parent to come live with you?
On the surface this can seem like a fairly simple decision – but it’s one that is fraught with implications for the parent, for the adult children, and for the grandkids. Having mom or dad living under the same roof as the rest of your family can be a source of great joy, frequent battles, or a blend of both. Because this question comes up frequently at our AgingOptions seminars and on our radio program, our attention was recently drawn to this article we discovered a few weeks ago on the USNews website. “Should your aging parent move in with your family?” the article asks. “Consult your head and your heart when considering this major commitment.”
According to an AARP study from a few years ago, more than one-third of people who receive unpaid caregiving are living in the same household as their family member. “As a parent struggles to live independently, your generous first inclination is to open your home,” writes USNews author Lisa Esposito. “It’s a loving gesture to help keep your parent safe and return at least some of the care that you freely received as a child.” But, she adds, while multigenerational homes work well for many families, “these arrangements aren’t necessarily best for everyone. It takes forethought and a gut check for all parties involved to succeed.” You need to enter into this arrangement, not with unrealistic dreams of how things could be, but with a clear evaluation of some of the challenges and adjustments that lie ahead, both for you and for your aging loved one.
The USNews analysis starts with the one most obvious expense the host family will likely incur: remodeling to accommodate your new elderly housemate. Having mom or dad come live with you may be a nice idea but you have to ensure that they’re moving into an environment that is at least as safe as the one they’re leaving, and hopefully better. That means better lighting, wider hallways, larger bathrooms, easier-to-operate door latches and the like. This need for a physically safe place to live is made even more urgent because, in today’s households where both spouses work outside the home, there may be no one home most weekdays to watch out for the needs of a frail resident. The result can be a home that is not only physically dangerous but emotionally isolating. “An older parent might still be home alone, but no longer with accustomed neighbors or familiar friends nearby,” says USNews. “Parents actually might feel more isolated than before.” When deciding whether to have mom or dad move in, make sure the home is both physically safe and socially stimulating.
US News points out that having an aging parent move in can put major stress on family dynamics. Some experts in multigenerational housing explain that it can be hard for an older parent to assume a secondary role as a resident in the adult child’s home. They’re used to being head of the household in their own home, writes Lisa Esposito. Now they’re forced to shift their perspective and let their son or daughter take the lead, a shift that’s made more difficult if the parent-child relationship is tense to begin with. This emotional strain is aggravated by the natural process of aging, when health diminishes, mobility is severely reduced and close friends begin to pass away. The “host family” needs to treat their elder loved one with a special measure of patience and empathy.
The USNews article also raises some delicate questions that families have to consider to avoid having their “dream relationship” with a senior loved one become a nightmare. One of these questions reflects a basic need for personal privacy. “Modesty is an element of dignity for many seniors,” Esposito writes in USNews. “For parents who need help with showering, bathing or other personal-care issues, hiring a part-time caregiver can allow them to feel better than having sons or daughters step in.” Similarly, some personal care issues, such as dealing with incontinence, are only going to get worse, especially if advancing dementia is part of the prognosis, so families have to consider how they will handle the ensuing discomfort and embarrassment. Also, even if the senior loved one is in reasonably good health, couples hosting an aging parent at home need to address the fact their time alone is bound to be adversely affected, creating tensions that can put a marriage to the test.
There’s much more to the USNews article than we can cover here. With all the discussion of the potential downside of senior parents and adult children living under the same roof, the article ends on a positive note. “Multigenerational living offers deep and intangible benefits to family members,” says Esposito. Besides demonstrating family care to your own kids, having an aging loved one living with you offers “a chance to show love, altruism and a sense of family loyalty.” We have heard from hundreds if not thousands of people who have said that, as challenging as living multi-generationally can be, the challenge is more than worth it.
As we reflect on the USNews article, the core message – the critical importance of planning – seems to us to apply not just to housing choices but to all aspects of retirement. And we also like the phrase, “Use your head and your heart” when making your retirement plans. Here at AgingOptions we recommend a proven approach to retirement planning that we call LifePlanning, because it takes into account all the key elements of retirement life: finances, housing choices, medical coverage, legal protection, and even family communication. Your “head” will be satisfied knowing you’ve planned for every contingency, and your “heart” will be at peace thanks to the security that a having a LifePlan in place can bring.
Are you ready to learn more? Then come join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll find a listing of all currently scheduled seminars by clicking on this link, where you can also register online for the seminar of your choice. It’s absolutely free – and we assure you, when it comes to retirement planning, you won’t find a better way to invest a few hours. It will be a pleasure to say hello and to meet you at an upcoming AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Age on!
(originally reported at www.health.usnews.com)