If you are like most family caregivers, you probably made a promise to your parent(s) years ago that you would never place them in a long-term care facility. You assured them that you would be the one to see to their care no matter what. After all, that is what family does, right?
But when it becomes clear that one or both parents need an increasing amount of assistance, many adult children find themselves in a delicate situation. Those who take the time to think through this decision are often plagued by questions and what-if scenarios. How much help does Mom actually need? Is Dad just lonely living by himself? How are we going to fit the in-laws in our home? Will the kids still have enough space? Would assisted living be a better option? Should I move in with my elderly parents or should I build an addition onto our house? The list of present and future concerns is extensive.
Deciding Whether to Live With Elderly Parents
According to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 research report published by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 40 percent of family caregivers report that their care recipients live with them. Another common option is for caregivers to move in with their aging parents. Regardless of who moves in with whom, the decision to live with aging parents is a serious one that affects all relationships within a family, careers, finances, and the physical and mental health of everyone involved.
For some, the arrangement works out fine. Two or even three generations residing in the same home can be a good thing. Multigenerational living works best when there is plenty of space so that everyone can get the privacy they need. Additional factors include mutual respect for one another, clear communication and a willingness to cooperate. Respite must also be built into this living arrangement from the beginning to avoid caregiver burnout and resentment among other family members. Adequate planning beforehand is crucial for helping ensure that living with your parents is successful.
Unfortunately, reality bites. Many families are forced to make knee-jerk care decisions following health setbacks. Some aging parents simply show up on their adult children’s doorsteps ready to move in. Others may find themselves trapped in what was supposed to be a temporary situation while devising a long-term solution. While I do not have any statistics, I think it’s safe to say based on the correspondence I’ve received from family caregivers and the posts I’ve read in the Caregiver Forum over the years that living with senior parents may start off okay, but things steadily go downhill for many families. Adult children often end up feeling hemmed in by the promises they made, by the financial needs of the entire household and by caregiver guilt.
What to Do When Living With Elderly Parents Doesn’t Work Out
What is a caregiver to do when they find themselves struggling with their living situation? A lot depends on the background and details surrounding one’s unique arrangement. Most family caregivers embrace living with their parents because they want the best for them. They take on the responsibility out of love and/or necessity. Some caregivers move in with their parents because they were in a troubled spot themselves—trying to provide for children, following a divorce, or recovering from a financial or career setback. The decision to move in together was supposed to benefit everyone. Sadly, another subset of caregivers has been stuck in this cycle for years with a manipulative or abusive parent, and they just do not know how to detach and start anew.
Caregiver guilt can be a significant obstacle for many, regardless of the specifics. You feel an obligation to make this work, but when an elder exhibits troublesome dementia-related behaviors, creates unsafe or unsanitary conditions, sets a poor example for your children, interferes with your marriage, or refuses to contribute to the household or see to their own care, it puts a huge strain on your life.
If you’re feeling trapped caring for elderly parents in a situation that you cannot escape, it’s time to let go of the guilt and make other arrangements. It is time to acknowledge that you did your best and explore other elder care options. These might consist of adult day care or in-home care for respite or moving your loved one into assisted living, memory care or a nursing home. If you moved in with your parent(s), it is time to extricate yourself from this situation and look for another place to live.
This is far less complicated if you have the ability to move out and walk away, but all too often caregiving has a negative impact on one’s finances. Greater financial security affords more options for respite care and alternative living arrangements. You may need professional assistance to get everything straightened out. Federal, state and local programs may be able to help you get back on your feet and become more financially independent. The sooner you get the monetary aspect resolved, the sooner you will be able to set your plan in motion. A good place to start is the Benefit Finder at Benefits.gov.
Relocating Elderly Parents So Their Needs Are Met
In some sticky situations, you may need an elder law attorney to help you see these changes through. Legal counsel can be expensive, but free and low-cost legal aid services are available nationwide. Ideally, your loved one got their affairs in order before you began caring for them. This includes power of attorney documents (hopefully naming you as their agent to act on their behalf), a will and the like. Power of attorney (POA) is especially important when trying to get aging parents to move into long-term care, but be aware that there are limitations to what you can do with this legal designation.
If your loved one is already incompetent and they did not name a POA, you will need legal help to obtain guardianship, which gives you the legal authority to make decisions on their behalf. This includes deciding where Mom and/or Dad must live to receive the best possible care. Be aware that seeking guardianship of a senior can be a long and expensive process.
If your loved one is competent and refuses to move out of your home, you may have to seek legal assistance to force a solution for everyone's wellbeing. Your state or local department of social services or Area Agency on Aging may be able to help with determining alternate living arrangements and elder care options for your loved one. The Legal Services Corporation is an independent nonprofit organization that provides civil legal aid to low-income Americans in all states and can help with eviction proceedings.
Choosing to Walk Away From Caregiving
On the other hand, if you are living with older parents, you can try to get them to accept outside help and take some of the pressure off you. If they refuse to make any changes to the caregiving situation, then the responsibility for those changes falls on you, usually in the form of moving out. However, you still want to ensure they continue receiving the care they need in your absence. What’s a caregiver to do?
It is important to remember that competent elders are entitled to make their own decisions—even bad or unsafe ones. The fact of the matter is that you cannot make a senior accept in-home care services or force them to move to senior living. Adult Protective Services will intervene in instances where a competent senior is living in unsafe or unsanitary conditions that constitute “self-neglect.” Otherwise, they may be left to their own devices.
In these cases, family caregivers must make the difficult decision of putting their own physical and mental health, happiness and immediate family first. Decide what you want your life to look like, create a plan to make it happen, and set well defined boundaries to ensure you will not get sucked back into the intense caregiving situation you tried to distance yourself from in the first place. Unfortunately, it often takes an accident or medical crisis for a resistant senior to accept the care they need from outside sources or make the move to a long-term care facility.
It would be wonderful if someone could wave a magic wand to make Mom well, get you a good job so you can move out, repair your marriage, or have your kids totally understand the confusing nature of the situation. But, there are no magic wands. Perhaps, you can still live with your parents with the addition of outside help, or perhaps you just need to get out of the mess you are in. Whatever the case, living in a situation that everyone hates is actually doing more harm than good. The only way out is through. That involves anxiety, hard work and determination, but you can do it. It’s the only way your life will change for the better.