Should Your Elderly Loved One Move in with You?

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Decades ago, having grandparents move in with you was fairly common, and it often worked well. It did for my family. My parents built a new house that could accommodate all the different generations and afforded some privacy for all. Grandma moved in, and the arrangement worked. My mom did not work outside the home, so there was nearly always someone home with Grandma. I was also a born caregiver and gladly did what I could to help with both my toddler sister and my grandmother.

These days, having an aging loved one move in is still an option for some families, but it has become more complicated. Multi-generational living can have serious implications, and there are a number of factors that are often overlooked that must be taken into consideration first.

Past and Future Relationships

To avoid potential issues when an elderly parent moves in, it is important to reflect on their relationships with each member of your household. If your husband has never gotten along with your mother, it is highly unlikely that their relationship would change for the better after she moved in. The same applies if you have had a historically troubled relationship with your mother. You may have the best intentions, but forcing a relationship for any reason is guaranteed to backfire.

Even if your family dynamic has been largely positive in the past, try to anticipate potential changes that could result from this decision. How could moving Dad in affect your marriage? Will your elder be able to tolerate living with active children? Should the kids expect that Grandpa is in charge when Mom and Dad aren't home, or should they be taught that they will be assuming the role of caregiver?

It is crucial to have realistic expectations of everyone involved, including yourself. These considerations will help you determine how living with an elder will affect the entire family dynamic.

Level of Care

There are countless reasons why elders move in with their younger family members. They may be experiencing financial strain, their spouse may have passed away, or they might have physical or mental health conditions that make it difficult or impossible for them to continue living independently. Regardless of the initial reasons for such a solution, a careful examination of their current medical condition is paramount.

For some families, the initial arrangement is perfect. Grandma is still fairly capable and is able to help with the grandkids and the household. On the other hand, many families agree to move in together only to find that their elderly loved ones’ health and abilities have declined further than they had realized or begin to deteriorate quickly. Getting a clear picture of a senior’s health status will help you fully understand the level of care they require now, what they will require in the future, and how that will affect you and your family.

Consider the Financial Impact

Most people dive into caregiving because they want to help those they love. However, they don’t always consider that this help may be required for years. Having a parent move in with you can be beneficial financially for everyone involved, because all are contributing to one residence. But another person means more expenses for food and utilities. It may even mean making home modifications, building an in-law suite, paying for medications and medical supplies, covering gas for trips to the doctor, or hiring in-home care.

Figure out what expenses are involved in this decision, who will be paying for what and how much it will cost each party. Having a financial arrangement drawn up by an attorney is advisable. If you will be providing hands-on care for your loved one, then a personal care agreement is also highly encouraged. Detailed records will make a big difference initially and down the road, should your loved one ever need to apply for financial assistance like Medicaid.

Discuss the Possibilities

Even if everyone in the household accepts the initial idea, it is crucial for you to talk through the specifics. How long will this living situation last? Is it meant to be temporary or permanent? Are there any instances when this arrangement would have to change? For example, discuss what would need to happen if your relationship with your spouse became strained, if a child’s needs began taking a backseat to the elder’s, or if you had to quit your job to provide full-time care.

Consider every possibility you can think of and make sure everyone’s expectations are clearly communicated and planned for. Be realistic about the possibility that the day may come when your elder needs more care than you can give. Discussing these things can be difficult, but it will ensure that everyone is well-prepared and on the same page.

Settling on a Decision

If everyone can come to an agreement and you proceed with moving your loved one in, make a point of speaking with your family regularly to see how everyone feels about the decision. Circumstances and opinions can change very quickly, and you don’t want problems to get out of hand before you can address them constructively.

If your family members aren’t in agreement on this arrangement, then you’ll have some work to do. Fortunately, there are resources that can help you devise a solution that is best for you and your family. Group therapy or mediation could help everyone communicate about this difficult decision more effectively. A geriatric care manager can conduct an assessment of your loved one’s needs and recommend options for their care that you can choose from. A local or online support group can shed light on what it really means to be a caregiver. Information and assistance are available to help your family through this decision.

Plan for what you consider best for your family, but know that the outcome may not be exactly what you envisioned. A realistic approach toward multi-generational living will increase the likelihood that everyone will adjust to the arrangement fairly well.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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7 Comments

As we know social skills can make or break a person in life .It can be a wonderful experience for the children to have grandparents in the home to reinforce those skills. Learning to respect others starts early . . Even if the grandparent has Alzheimer Disease, children learn to tolerate differences and be helpful. Bringing in grandparents to care for can be a win win situation for all in the family. I loved having my grandmother stay with us. She had plenty of time for stories and listened to me share my day. She had tea parties with me and played games with me. My mother liked having another pair of hands to fold clothes , snap beans, and many other little jobs since my mother worked outside of the house. She appreciated having a built in babysitter who reinforced the rules of the house. Grandma loved all of us unconditionally and we all were so sad when she died. She did know it all and even more than she shared with us. I often think that my parents attitude toward caring for family influences my attitude toward caring for them. I see and am so proud of my kids having the same caring attitude toward their elders. The old saying is true. "It is not what you say but what you do that makes the difference."
It obviously depends on the personalities of all involved to make things work when an elderly relative comes to live in. My mother-in-law is living with us now after having lived by herself (by choice) very independently for 50 years. She values privacy and has always been very conservative and somewhat introverted. She doesn't show a lot of emotion and keeps things very close. It is hard to tell when she is feeling bad or what she is feeling at all because she doesn't express it outwardly. With a person like this, it is very hard to have them living in your home. She is a very gracious person, but after 50 years of relative solitude (I don't know how anyone could do this) living in a community which did not have much to offer in the way of social activities, living with us is a huge step. Even at 95, I know she thinks that she will return to her house to live by herself without much human contact. Unfortunately, she is less and less able to care for herself and returning to her home (a few hours away from us) is just not feasible. Anyway, I think people make a choice to be involved socially; you can't really force it on them. In the end, to be involved socially, or be friendly with family and involved with them is a choice that stems from their basic personalities. You can't just say: you need social activity; they will usually reject that if they are not used to it.
Don't do it.