There will be impacts to a family’s living situation when an older adult moves in. Before the decision is made, an upfront and direct discussion around concerns, feelings, and expectations is needed. Depending on personalities and family history, such conversations can be easy or problematic, but whatever the dynamics, the discussion must happen. The living situation and caretaking role change can bring social, psychological, and financial burdens. Without thorough consideration and discussion, it can negatively affect your relationship.
Develop a written plan
Think ahead and account for your loved one’s needs (not wants) — and yours.
- Take your time with this move/transition and lay a roadmap. Think about steps in the process and detail them out in sequence. Use checklists.
- The roadmap includes many conversations with everyone involved: your spouse/partner and children, your parent (if they’re able), and your siblings.
- Make no assumptions and have a backup plan. Having a discussion about a backup plan in the beginning may make it easier down the road if the living situation needs to change again. A change in living situations often arises when the aging loved one's safety is at risk or they need more care than the family can provide. Backup plans don’t have to mean moving your aging loved one to a completely new location. Bringing hired help in to assist (home health aides) or engaging in day care programs are other options.
Moving your aging loved one in with you is a complex and wide-ranging emotional experience that can affect your relationship with your spouse/partner or children.
- If the family members work, an older loved one might still be home alone, but no longer with familiar neighbors or friends nearby, and may actually feel more isolated than before. You'll want to make your loved one's neighbors and friends aware of the move before it happens, as well as acquaint them with your neighbors and friends after the move.
- An older adult is used to being head of household in their own home and with you - their child. It's not easy for them to relinquish that role while living in your home. This can lead to unwelcome input, changes, and demands to do things differently than you and your family prefer. You'll need to decide on boundaries and how to communicate those them with your loved when this occurs.
- Reassess your home space and set expectations.
- Private versus shared areas of the home.
- Who is in charge of what household responsibilities.
- Renovations to kitchens, bathrooms, doorways, lighting and railings may be needed to make living conditions safer and more manageable for your loved one.
- House rules - quiet times, meals and snacks, cleaning and redecoration, pets, family vacations, and so on. Understand that to set appropriate expectations with your loved one and to minimize disruption to your family life, your established house rules should not be modified much, if at all, to accommodate them.
Create a new budget.
- Be absolutely clear with one another about who will manage finances and how.
- Who will pay for what? How will things be paid for? Consider everything from medical bills to utilities to food to pet care to transportation.
- Get familiar with their health insurance. Take advantage of all free and low-cost benefits, as well as any caregiver benefits (those are for YOU) their health plan may offer.
Taking over your parent’s finances. Discuss plans for handling your loved one’s financial affairs before they show signs of decline. You will be better positioned to help protect their assets. Remember, the purpose of having the "money talk” with your loved one is to ensure they have sufficient savings to meet their needs, adequate insurance to cover future medical and long-term care costs, and that they have designated individuals (power of attorneys) to make financial and medical decisions on their behalf if they become ill or mentally incapacitated. This will reassure them that you do not wish to hide or steal their money.
Those perceptions can occur because your loved one grew up and worked in a time when it was engrained that every cent had value and a purpose - that nothing was wasted and luxuries were few, a time when they were constantly reminded how hard they worked for every dollar, and a time when income taxes continued to increase and it was emphasized to them that banks, investors, and the government could not be trusted. They were also raised to keep financial information private and never share it. Even if they need help, they may not know how to ask for it, and may remain uncomfortable (even irritable) giving up control.
Financial considerations. Many people opt to consult an elder attorney, a tax professional, or a financial professional to explore opportunities and the wisest course of action. In this case, expect:
- New expenses, direct and indirect
- Income and contribution questions
- Tax opportunities
- Estate planning issues
Identify your loved one’s needs (not wants)
Identify the level of care needed and make sure that care can be provided in your home, either by you and your family members or with outside assistance. Think about daily routine activities like driving, preparing meals, housework, shopping, managing finances, medication management, etc., as well as eating, dressing, bathing, restroom assistance, and other personal care matters.
Try to limit other stressful life changes (if you can)
Give yourself some space and grace to adjust. Adjusting to your loved one moving in with you will take time. This is a big emotional and practical change and is hard on even the healthiest of relationships. So, be patient with yourself, your spouse/partner, your children, and your loved one.
Try to avoid major life events or purchases during this time of transition (job change, room renovation or addition, big vacation, even a new diet). Avoiding these during this transition will help ensure your own esteem and success. Put making other major changes on hold for a few months.
Most importantly... Expect the unexpected. And, unfortunately, there is no way to elaborate on that or make any predictions. Examples may be kitchen accidents, important events missed or forgotten, an added expense, a health crisis, or something breaking.
Loop in the rest of the family
- Siblings should be part of the discussion. Depending on proximity, they could be available to help with direct caregiving duties. If that isn’t possible, they may still be able to provide financial support or assist with running errands, preparing taxes, paying bills, or moving and storing furniture.
- Prepare your children (and others living in the home) ahead of time. Let them know what they are expected to do and, maybe more importantly, what they are not expected to do (i.e., help grandma in the tub or shower, as this can be a lot for a child).
- Stick to the status quo. If your loved one sees you sticking to routines and creature comforts, they’ll feel more comfortable to do so, as well.
- Don’t be a hero. Just because you share an address doesn’t mean you are the only one responsible for your loved one’s care and needs. Don’t hesitate to call on siblings and other family members to share the responsibility of providing care.
- Buckle up for days that are an emotional rollercoaster.
- Increasing needs. When a loved one has dementia, families face more challenges. Consider what you'll do as dementia progresses and caregiving demands rise. For example, once incontinence becomes an issue, how are you going to feel about handling it in your home? What about feeding? Wandering and falling or other injuries can becomes issues. Are you able to make dementia-proof modifications to your home? Take advantage of social programs? Since you can't always be present, or stay awake 24/7, you will need some assistance. If necessary, could you accommodate a paid caregiver? You may even feel faced with intense choices like whether you can afford to quit work and stay at home to provide care.
- Modesty. An element of dignity for many seniors. For your loved one who needs help with showering, bathing, or other personal-care issues, hiring a part-time caregiver can help them maintain their dignity, as their children or other family relations won't see them naked and vulnerable.
The pros and cons
Integrating the needs of your loved one with needs and wishes for your own life can be tough. If the arrangement isn’t going well, if there is a lot of struggle and conflict, or if the caregiving tasks are more than you can manage, it can lead to resentment and strain in your family.
However, it can be an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience living with an aging love one in their final phase of life. You may become closer than you've ever been, your family, too. You may find many tender moments that you will cherish forever. In fact, thousands like you say that it was the hardest promise they ever kept… And they would do it again.