Many thanks to Mary Lynn Pannen, RN, BSN, CCM, Owner and President of Sound Options for this wonderful article about creating space for aging parents living with adult children.
According to AgingCare.com, 34 million Americans are personally providing care for older family members. As an aging society, more and more adult children are meeting the challenges of elder care by opening their homes to aging parents and in-laws. Whether it is a short-term solution or a long-term plan, here are a few important tips for making a home within a home, reducing conflicts, and setting expectations:
1. Sacred Space: Make sure your elderly loved one has their own defined space. Much of the house will be common area, but it is a crucial part of autonomy to have your own sacred space that you have control over and can go into at any time.
2. Personalize Space: Help your loved one feel at home by adding photos and objects that are special and important to them. Every space should tell the story of the individual living there. A few well-chosen objects such as a piece of art, a family quilt, or favorite books, can really redefine a room.
3. Family Dynamics: Setting up ground rules, boundaries, and a schedule such as quiet hours, family dinners, and expectations of how spaces will be used is really important for navigating the transition. Especially if you are part of the sandwich generation and still have children at home, posting expectations will help them adjust to the changes.
4. Meal Planning: Allow input and make sure expectations are set around food preparation including dietary restrictions. Setting expectations of who will be contributing financially will also help reduce stress and conflict later. Often tasks of daily living are difficult for aging adults to give up. Compromise and look for ways they can make decisions and contribute.
5. In-Home Care & Care Management Services: Create a plan for increased care needs and relief care for adult children providing care and management for loved ones. Often it is not apparent what the role will entail or feel like until you are in the middle of it. Make a plan if care becomes too much or if an emergency arises before you need it.
6. Common Spaces: Set expectations for common areas such as laundry room, kitchen, TV room, garage, outdoor spaces. Placing simple instructions around the house on new appliances such as the washer/dryer or TV remote/ etc. can help orient an aging loved one to the new space.
7. Safety: Making small changes to the home dramatically reduces the risk of falls and injury in the home. Consider the following modifications: Remove small area rugs, install grab bars and anti-slip mats in the bathroom, make sure walkways are free from clutter, furniture arrangements should accommodate mobility devices, and repair outdoor areas with loose handrails or walkways that are uneven and cracking.
8. Taxes: Consult your tax advisor to ensure that you’re taking advantage of appropriate tax deductions such as claiming a parent as a dependent or deducting other expenses related to care.
9. Relationships: Impacts on relationships and dynamics within the home are inevitable. Make sure that you have a regular family meeting to discuss concerns and questions with everyone living in the home. It is important that relationships with your own family members do not come at the expense of helping mom and dad.
10. Asses Care Needs Regularly: Make sure that you plan for changes and discuss wishes and options before they are needed. It is crucial that you create a plan for difficult decisions such as driving, end-of-life care, and setting up a Durable Power of Attorney. Consider keeping a simple journal to track changes in behavior, habits, mobility, and other observations that may change over time.
11. Storage: Discuss what will happen to items that will not be coming into the home. A combination of storage, purging, gifting, and donations can be important during any transition. Help a loved one choose a few items to have around them at any given time.
12. Finances: This can be the most crucial aspect to discuss and set expectations on when considering moving a parent into your home. Discuss expectations of who will contribute to care costs and how finances will be managed. It can be very difficult to surrender control of finances to an adult child, but it may be necessary if bills are going unpaid or late.
13. Dementia: If your loved one is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s or other dementias it is crucial that you have appropriate training and education to equip yourself with knowledge and expectations of care. Close monitoring by a physician will be important for optimum safety for your loved one. Consider joining a support group and be open with your workplace about your changing responsibilities.
Weighing the Options
The right care choices for every person and every family are different. What may feel right for one family may not be the right option for another. What is important is that you weigh the pros and cons and honor your choice as difficult as it may be to make.
- If you’re a part of the sandwich generation and have younger children in the home, they will be able to witness firsthand the aging and care process.
- If you are the primary caregiver, it can be helpful to not waste time commuting to or managing two separate households.
- Especially if a loved one is ill or actively dying, the time spent in the home can foster invaluable memories and moments together.
- Financial and time strains on family and work can be great
- Family caregivers often have lower quality health and are at risk for burnout.
- Family relationships can be strained in this role reversal of a child caring for a parent.
If you are considering or are in the process of moving an aging parent into your home, an excellent option at the outset of this transition is to sit down with an eldercare expert for a one hour consultation. As an RN or MSW, a Geriatric Care Manager is able to make recommendations for your specific situation and help create a game plan for your family. They are a wonderful resource to lean on for crisis management and long-term planning to ensure that your loved one remains safe and that everyone involved enjoys a high quality of life. You can find a Professional Geriatric Care Manager anywhere in the country at http://www.caremanager.org/ and here in the Puget Sound region at http://www.soundoptions.com/.