Moving Your Elder in with You: Practical Tips & Suggestions

By Nancy Bryce, Contributing Editor
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If you are considering having your elderly parent or relative move into your home, you are not alone. According to Business Week, May 17, 1999, 22 percent of seniors are expecting to move in with their kids, and 54 percent of baby boomers are expecting their parents to move in with them.

When you consider all the lifestyle adjustments, role changes, and changes in relationships that will ultimately occur by having your elder move in with you, the prospect may seem daunting. So, before you make a quick decision, it is important to look at all the issues facing everyone involved.

When I was 17, my elderly grandmother moved in with my family. I look back on that time with a mix of emotions. I would not have traded the time I spent with my grandmother, but I also know how stressful it was
for all of us.

In my situation, my grandmother’s long-time companion had died suddenly, and my grandmother was no longer able to live on her own. She was partially paralyzed; therefore, there were mobility issues to consider in trying to determine where she should live. We eventually decided she should reside with us.

I remember the night my dad brought my grandmother to our house. She sat in the hall looking lost, broken and lonely. It was an awkward time for all of us. Looking back, I understand the range of emotions she must have been feeling. She had lost her best friend, had to deal with leaving her own house and she had to face moving into a different house in a different state. And as if that were not enough, she also had to live with a family with an unfamiliar lifestyle.

Emotional Issues. In order for this new arrangement to work, you and your elder must examine your relationships with each other. Even if you are blessed with loving and caring relationships, you must determine if you can live together. By honestly answering the following questions, you will be on your way to determining if you should consider the move.
___ Have you had a relationship that has been open and honest?
___ Have you been able to settle past differences?
___ Are there any unresolved issues?

Living Arrangements. After you determine that you are emotionally ready to make the move, you must examine the living arrangements. When my grandmother moved in with us, one of the biggest adjustments she had to make was being restricted to the lower level of our house. Because of her partial paralysis, she could not navigate the stairs. Her bed, television, and a few other pieces of furniture were set-up in our back room. The only other rooms she had access to were the bathroom and the family room.

She was very upset that she could not prepare her food or cook in the kitchen. This issue turned into an emotional one for the whole family. This is one important issue that we should have resolved before she
moved in with our family. (See the Comprehensive Home Safety Checklist and the Home Modifications Tips)

___ Is there enough room in your home for everyone to live comfortably?
___ Do any minor or major changes need to be made to accommodate any disabilities or mobility problems your parent or relative may have?
___ Have you reviewed the home for safety traps and potential problems?
___ Are you taking into account all privacy issues?
___ What, if any, furniture will your relative bring with him or her?
___ If your elder has Alzheimer’s Disease or other form of dementia, will wandering be a problem? Should doors and windows always be secured?
___ Can you identify “Danger Zones” that should be restricted?
___ Can you identify “Safe Zones” where your elder is free to wander and explore?
___ Are there areas of the home where family members can separate themselves from the stresses of caregiving?

Financial Caregiving. As you take on more responsibility for your elder’s well-being, you may find yourself managing her financial affairs. This is a doubly challenging responsibility since it presents the additional burden of spending time writing out bills, balancing accounts and managing investments. It also may require you to delve into very private matters that parents and relatives rarely share with their children. (See the article on Financial Caregiving)

___ Have you considered automatic payment of recurring bills?
___ Do all siblings understand and participate in the financial matters?
___ Have you researched low-cost or free assistance services?
___ Do you regularly meet with other family members to agree on new expenditures or to keep them apprised of accounts?
___ Have you discussed responsibility for out-of-pocket expenses with your siblings and your elder?

Assistance. Another important issue to resolve is whether your elder will need assistance during the day. This is especially important if the rest of your family works or goes to school outside the home.

___ If assistance is required, what arrangements can be made?
___ If your parent requires no daily assistance, will you be able to take off from work to take him to appointments or care for her when she is ill?

Relationship Changes. Role changes may be one of the hardest factors to deal with. I know it  was for my grandmother and my dad. Essentially, my grandmother became one of the kids. She had to abide by the rules of the household, and although she was free to voice her opinions, she lacked the authority she once had to make final decisions. I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for her.

It was also difficult for my dad to assert his authority over his mother. He struggled with trying to keep the house running smoothly without restricting her so much that she resented him or the situation.

___ Are you prepared for role reversals that may occur? For example, your elder may no longer feel like the “parent.”
___ Are you prepared to make rules that may not always be warmly received by your elder?

Emotional Space. Emily Carton, MA, LISW a Washington, DC area geriatric social worker for more than twenty years, says the biggest complaints people have when they take on this responsibility is that they have no time: they’re exhausted and they do not get enough sleep. This is especially true for those who care for parents or relatives with special needs such as those with Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementia.

___ Will you be able to cope with encroachment on your privacy? Some of us require more emotional space than others and may resent having someone around all the time.
___ Also, will you be afraid to be yourself? You must consider how you will feel having to be the source of care and entertainment for your new dependent.

Family Consent/Approval.

___ Have you discussed issues regarding caring for your elder with other family members?
___ Have you discussed the move with your siblings and other relatives of your elder?
___ Will other siblings or relatives share in caregiving and occasionally host the elder in their home?
___ Are they in agreement with the decision to take in a new resident?
___ Is anyone upset or unhappy?
___ Have your young children been consulted and do they understand the new situation?

Activities. It is extremely important for each of you to feel you are not restricted because of the arrangement.

___ Will you be able to support your parent or relative’s outside interests?
___ If he enjoys going to baseball games, will you be able to take him or make arrangements for him?
___ Will your elder occasionally leave home to go to a senior center or visit with other older friends?
___ Will you be able to continue your own activities?

Respecting Yourself and Your Elder. Above all else, you must always remember to respect yourself. You must frequently pat yourself on the back for taking on such a big responsibility. If stress and resentment build up from time to time, you must have a support system in place to help you out. This move is not something you can do without the support of others.

You must also remember to respect your elder. Your elder spent most of his or her life raising and nurturing you, and is deserving of your praise. Although at times it may be difficult, your relative should not be made to feel as though she is a burden.

Your Elder's Contributions to the Family. Consider how much your parent can contribute to the family. Think of all the experiences your mom or dad has had that can be shared with you and your children. You can learn about parts of your family tree that you never knew about or events in history that you have only read about.

Carton, through her experience as a geriatric social worker, says many caregivers look at the situation as a “gift you can give back to your parent” for the gift they gave you at the beginning of your life.

As a teenager, I developed a deep friendship with my grandmother. We talked and laughed all the time. I learned so much about her personality - things I never would have learned by visiting her twice a year as we had done before she moved in.

She was there for some of the most important days of my life. She helped me get ready for my senior prom and graduation. I look back on those days with fond memories, and I am thankful I had the time with her. Despite the stresses on our family, I believe the overall experience was positive for the entire family.

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