Nancy looked around the dinner table and smiled. Seeing her two young boys, husband, and mother all sitting together, chatting about their days, made her heart warm with gratitude. It had been a year since she’d invited her mom Paula to come live with them—a proposition that had initially caused some stress for her and her husband as they tried to figure out how to swing it financially, although Paula had enough savings to help pitch in, including a few renovations and extra safety features for the bathroom.
Having Paula in the home turned out to be great for everyone, after an initial settling-in period: she reveled in taking care of the kids when Nancy and her husband enjoyed a date night, and loved whipping up home-cooked meals for the family to eat at the end of a long day. So, perhaps it’s no surprise then that one in four caregivers in America lives with an aging relative they care for.
These days, it’s often better to pool resources together than to pay for assisted living or a nursing home, with the added bonus of getting to spend more quality time together as a family. Many parents also prefer their children to see firsthand what it’s like to care for an older adult, and to form a deeper connection with their grandparents. Still, the transition of moving an aging parent into your home can bring some challenges—and a certain amount of stress is normal during any big life change. Approaching the move from a place of openness and love can help your aging parent, and the rest of the household, to stay focused on the benefits and joy of living together once again.
7 Steps When Moving a Parent into Your Home
Inviting your aging loved one to live with you can be rewarding for the whole family. Taking these thoughtful steps to prepare ahead of time can help give an extra warm welcome to your aging parent, and ensure that everyone in the home feels respected throughout the transition.
1. Understand Your Loved One’s Health Issues
It often happens that an aging parent moves in when they start to need long-term care, or after they’ve been diagnosed with an illness. Fully consider any illnesses your loved one is currently coping with, and what type of care they need because of it. Understanding their unique needs can help you and your family prepare and get a sense of how your schedules and lives will be impacted.
For example, they might suffer from arthritis and need help doing daily tasks like cooking a meal, which you can ask your children to pitch in on. Or perhaps they have dementia and require help remembering things, or they’re recovering from a hip fracture and need plenty of rest. Familiarizing yourself with the type of care your loved one will need—both now and in years to come—can help prepare you and minimize any surprises.
On the other hand, if your aging parent is still in good health and relatively independent, this can also be an ideal time for them to move in: they’ll have a wonderful opportunity to bond with your children and get to know your spouse better, as well as be able to offer support at home like babysitting, cooking, and contributing financially.
2. Set Realistic Expectations with Family Members
Speak with both immediate and extended family members about your loved one moving in so that everyone is on the same page. Be clear about your intentions, how the move might affect them, and be transparent about financial situations—especially whether or not your parent is contributing financially to your household. Keeping everyone in the loop can help to nip misunderstandings in the bud, and prevent unnecessary conflict.
Make sure immediate family members have an idea of the changes that might take place. For example, perhaps the kids will need to take on extra chores, help care for grandma or grandpa, or need to share a bedroom. Listen to any concerns they may have, such as a lack of privacy or reduced time with you. This can help everyone to feel included in the decision and reduce anxieties so that the focus remains on the excitement of being able to share more time together as a family.
3. Consider Your Relationship With Your Parent
Be honest with yourself about how well you really get along with your aging parent. If you’ve always had a good relationship, chances are that living together will be a pretty smooth transition. But, if you’ve had issues with your parent in the past, it’s really important to figure out how to overcome them. If it’s not possible to work through your relationship problems, you might want to reconsider the impact of them moving in with you.
It’s just as important that your other family members get along well with your parent. Otherwise, consider investing in a therapist or mediator to help mend fences between your spouse and parent, for instance. You can also try strategically delegating tasks, and planning schedules to avoid potential conflict between people. Most of all, everyone needs to commit to being respectful and bringing an open heart to the table.
4. Create Healthy Boundaries
Figure out what your loved one’s needs are, and what level of caregiving you feel comfortable providing on a daily basis. While living together can make it easier to keep an eye on your aging parent—like making sure they’re eating well and taking their medication—it can also create extra stress.
Some caregivers find it difficult to let go of being a caregiver and concentrate on themselves. A caregiver’s list of tasks is limitless, so it’s essential to create strong boundaries that protect your time for self-care. Good time management is also key: be honest with yourself about how much you can do for your loved one, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. And, even though you live with your aging parent, you may find that hiring an outside caregiver works best for everyone.
5. Prepare Your House
Creating a safe and comfortable space for your aging loved one can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Don’t fret if you don’t have financial resources available: there are easy tricks to make your home safer. Try rearranging the furniture to make it easier for your loved one to get from one place to another—placing chairs in hallways, for instance, gives them a spot to sit down if they get tired. If you want to go further, add a few grab bars around hallways and in the bathroom.
Also determine how much space your loved one and other family members will need to feel comfortable. If you’re short on space, consider tweaks to living arrangements like having two children sleep in one room, or turning the study into a bedroom.
And, make sure there’s a bathroom on the same floor as your loved one’s bedroom and that it’s properly equipped with safety features like grab bars and slip-resistant mats. The bathroom may need to be big enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair, or have the potential to be expanded in the future. If your loved one has trouble walking, consider adding ramps to staircases, or putting their bedroom on the ground floor.
6. Figure out Finances
Many families these days are living in multigenerational homes—pooling resources often creates a higher quality of life for everyone. It’s increasingly common for adults and their aging parents to buy a larger house together for the whole family to live in. Even if they don’t help with the cost of the home, your loved one may be able to offer financial contribution in other ways, like paying for a renovation, babysitting the children, or buying groceries.
It’s equally important to consider the amount that their care may cost. Depending on how much assistance they need, you might want to invest in a home-aid, reduce the number of hours you work, or pay for medical costs. Create a budget beforehand to get a handle on how your family’s finances could change once your parent moves in.
7. Be Open to Asking for Help
It can be helpful to expect the unexpected when your aging loved one moves in with you. Depending on how things go with their health, your lifestyle may stay the same, or become very different. And if your aging parent has a fall, or gets sick, time can slip away without warning. That’s why it’s so useful to arm yourself with support before you need it.
Reach out to friends and family to see who might be willing to step up when you need them. Having a list of trusted people you can ask for support helps reduce stress during tough times, whether in the case of an emergency, or simply when you need a break. It’s also helpful to get some recommendations for home-aids in your area if it turns out you need extra assistance.
Moving an aging parent into your home can be rewarding for the whole family, a time filled with love and compassion. And the right preparations can do a lot to lighten your load during the transition. Being aware of individual family member’s unique perspectives can help your family unite through empathy and understanding, while focusing on teamwork and being open to compromise can help you build even stronger family bonds.
Living together can create priceless opportunities for your family: young children get to know their grandparents better, your loved one can help out around the house, and will feel safe knowing they’re cared for at all times. Like any type of change, it can at first bring some stress as everyone adapts to the new situation. But, with careful planning, caregivers can help create a supportive environment for everyone to grow together.
If you’re unsure how to better support your aging loved one, Institute on Aging offers a wide variety of supportive services, programs, and online resources. Connect with us today to learn more.