Should your aging parent come to live with you?
A decision-making guide
By Lisa M. Petsche
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If you have a parent who lives alone, you may be concerned about his or her physical or emotional well being - or both. Especially if he or she (the latter will be used from here on) does not live close by or is clearly not managing well, you may wonder whether you should invite her to move in with you.
Before making an offer, ask yourself the following questions and take time to honestly and thoroughly answer each one.
- What kind of relationship do the two of you have? How do others in your household get along with your parent? Any personality clashes are sure to be magnified when you're living under the same roof.
- Consider your physical and mental health. Would you be able to provide hands-on assistance if needed? Could you cope with the ongoing stress involved in primary caregiving?
Your family's needs
- What do others in your household - spouse and any children - think of your parent moving in? It's crucial to have their support in order for such an arrangement to work. Would you still have enough time to devote to them?
- If you're employed, how might the primary caregiver role impact on your work? How would it affect your social life, vacation plans and other pursuits? Decide what adjustments you're prepared to make.
Your parent's needs
- Determine what kind of practical assistance your parent requires at present, and how much time it involves on a daily or weekly basis. Can she be left alone? If she's been diagnosed with a chronic illness such as Alzheimer's disease, how are her needs likely to change in the future?
- If you have relatives in the area, what kind of regular support would they be able and willing to provide to help make this work? Perhaps they could accompany your parent to appointments, regularly have her over for dinner, or periodically take her into their home for the weekend. Many creative arrangements are possible whereby caregiving responsibility is shared among family members, at least to some degree. This helps to prevent caregiver burnout.
- What kinds of community support services are available in your area to assist you in meeting your parent's needs, either now or in the future? Find out about accessible transportation services, seniors' recreation centers, day programs, home health care services that offer nursing, homemaking and various types of therapy, and residential respite programs.
- If you live in a different town, how easy would it be to link your parent with needed medical supports, such as a new primary physician?
- Give thought to how household expenses would be shared. Find out, too, whether your parent has savings or insurance that would cover the cost of any needed medical equipment or health care services. If not, are you able to pay for them yourself?
- Is there sufficient space in your home to meet everyone's needs for privacy? Would your parent have separate quarters, or would it be a communal living arrangement?
- Consider, too, your home's accessibility. Would renovations need to be made, and if so, what is the estimated cost and who would pay it?
Your parent's wishes and expectations
- Would your parent want to move in with you? If so, can you anticipate her expectations in terms of privacy, financial arrangements and practical help?
- Before making any decisions, explore alternatives: in-home services; adult day programs; live-in help; an assisted living facility or nursing home. Determine whether any of these options are appropriate and affordable. Consider the least disruptive ones first.
- If, after careful thought, you conclude that moving your parent in with you is not feasible, don't be swayed by guilt. Instead, help her develop a workable plan - whether it be arranging in-home services or finding another place to live - and provide as much practical and emotional support as possible.
- If you decide to move your parent in, allow plenty of time for everyone involved to adjust to the inevitable changes in family dynamics and household routines.
- There are bound to be some difficulties, but these can usually be worked through if you are committed to making the arrangement work.
The rewards can be great: a closer relationship with your parent; a feeling of fulfillment that you're doing something worthwhile; the satisfaction of being able to give back to someone who has done much for you; and the peace of mind that comes from knowing your parent is well cared for.
No matter how positive you feel about the long-term viability of your plan, don't promise your parent you will never pursue placement in a care facility, since you don't know what the future holds. Unexpected events can alter the best-made plans, so flexibility is key.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.