For some families, it’s a no-brainer. Mom or Dad can’t live alone anymore. Time to give back for all those years of care and support, and make room for your aging parent in your home. To do otherwise would be unacceptable.
But the decision to have a parent (or other aging family member) live with you and your family is often not that clear-cut. Even when intentions are good and motivations selfless, the move may actually not be in your parent’s best interest—or your family’s.
Indeed, since the move affects everyone, it needs to be a family decision. Guilt over perceived obligations can be a strong influence, but shouldn’t be the determining factor. After all, what you want to achieve is a living situation that is truly going to help your parent, not simply assuage your guilt or ease social pressure.
Here are some key questions to consider:
1. What are your parent’s needs?
In an ideal world, inviting your aging parent to live in your home can be a great boon to everyone. There is a renewed opportunity to deepen your relationship, a chance to strengthen bonds with your children, a time to learn from and share with each other. If your parent is still in relatively good physical and cognitive health, the responsibilities and cost of care may be minimal.
Typically, however, the decision to move a parent is spurred by a health crisis. Your parent’s care needs may be significant and intensifying with time. That introduces a host of variables that may or may not be within your ability or means to address. A realistic, independent assessment by an Aging Life Care Professional® will help you to understand what’s at stake.
2. What help can you truly provide?
All the best intentions in the world can’t compensate for the real demands of caregiving for a frail adult whose health is compromised. You need both reliable information about your loved one’s health (consult with your parent’s physician) as well as an honest assessment of what you can actually do for your parent.
This includes being realistic about your own health, any family issues at home that demand attention and energy, work expectations and other time commitments. Are you really home enough to provide needed support? Do you need to hire outside support when you are not available? Can you afford to?
3. How well do you get along with your parent?
While the idea of having Mom or Dad live with you may sound like a wonderful chance for closeness, old issues and resentments are sure to surface. It’s certainly possible to resolve past conflicts, but living in close proximity can also intensify friction. In addition, clashes with your parent can aggravate conflicts with your own children or spouse. Once again, being realistic about your ability to get along and work through issues rather than simply hoping that everything will be fine is essential for everyone’s sanity and well-being.
4. Can your home accommodate your parent’s needs?
The physical layout of your home is a key factor in any decision to house your aging parent. Stairs, hallways too narrow for a wheelchair, bathrooms that present too many obstacles—these can create serious safety concerns. If your home is small, will moving your parent require one of your children to lose his or her bedroom, or a family room? How will that affect your family’s ability to be accepting of your parent—or will it cause too much resentment? If modifications are required to make your home accessible and safe for your parent, who will pay?
5. How will your parent’s presence affect the life of your family?
If you take on the role of primary caregiver for your parent at home, what will you be giving up? Caregiving is a serious time commitment. It can also be physically and emotionally stressful. Will you need to cut back at work, if you are employed? How will that affect your family finances?
If your parent demands more of your attention, your children may feel slighted and act out. They may also feel uncomfortable about bringing home friends or constrained in other ways about socializing. While you might argue that your parent sacrificed for you, and now it’s your turn to sacrifice for him or her, foisting that on the rest of your family without taking their true feelings and needs into consideration may not be either fair or wise.
6. How will your siblings or other family members be involved?
Your siblings may be grateful that you’ve stepped up to take care of Mom or Dad. They may also be jealous, judgmental and otherwise difficult. At the very least, it’s wise to discuss the move with your siblings, not only to keep open communications, but also to establish realistic expectations.
Caregiving, even if you do it yourself, can be costly—both in terms of needed equipment or home modification, as well as foregone income. Who will help you pay? You’ll also want to discuss ground rules regarding visits, advice and your own needs for emotional support and respite, so that you and your family can get away for vacations and other special times alone.
7. What is really best for your parent?
Your parent’s medical needs aren’t the only issues at stake. Mom or Dad’s emotional well-being is crucial, too. Even if you have a wonderful relationship, will you be home enough to provide the social companionship and stimulation that your parent needs? If dementia is a factor, while early stages may be manageable, do you have the time and patience—let alone physical and emotional strength—to be present and supportive of him or her as the disease advances?
None of us can really predict whether and how we could rise to the occasion of caring for an aging parent at home. The most important thing to remember is that the decision is not yours alone to make. Your parent’s desires should be respected, as well as your family’s. You, too, need to care for yourself. An Aging Life Care Professional® can help you to sort out the complexities and determine the best solution for everyone involved.
President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® Manager. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.
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Image Credit: Christian Langballe