Family is top of mind for everyone these days, and you may be thinking it would be great to have a parent move in with you in the future so they can be closer to the grandkids and a part of your everyday life.
While the experience can be rewarding, it also brings a host of financial and emotional considerations. It is, after all, a co-living arrangement, and eliminating surprises now can help ease the transition. Here’s how to prepare for an elderly parent moving in.
WHAT ACCESSIBILITY MODIFICATIONS WILL YOU NEED TO MAKE?
Even if they can handle stairs, your parent should be given access to both a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor of your home, if possible. You may also find that you need to do some remodeling to make your home more accessible.
But not all modifications will require a hefty cost. “Most families’ first considerations are for bigger elements, like remodeling the shower,” says Liz Barlowe, president of Barlowe & Associates, a company that provides services for aging adults and their families. “But many times, older people have more nuanced deficits that must be accounted for.”
For instance, providing headphones or simply enabling closed captioning on your TV will make it easier for them to better hear or understand what they’re watching. If your parent has trouble seeing, consider reconfiguring furniture to create larger walkways, removing area rugs (which can be a tripping hazard) or painting walls in contrasting colors.
And if you do end up having to take on a more expensive remodel, it doesn’t have to be a sunk cost. Home modifications can not only increase the resale value of your house but can also be worthwhile in the long run if you intend to age there.
WHAT WILL CAREGIVING LOOK LIKE?
Depending on the level of commitment required, you may need to bring in professional help. Many caregivers will require that they work for a minimum of four hours, even if your parent doesn’t need that much assistance.
It can also be difficult to predict what type of assistance your parent will need until they have lived with you for a while, Barlowe says. So while you may have thought your parent was on top of things for the most part, their needs can become more pronounced as you are around them day in and day out. “They might have been preparing for your visit for a week, and therefore appeared to be managing better than they really were,” she says. “You may need to put some preliminary caregiving in place, and plan to revisit their actual needs once they've been with you for a while.”
HOW WILL YOUR PARENT CONTRIBUTE?
Once your parent settles in, surprise expenses can crop up. If your parent prefers a higher indoor temperature, heating bills can soar. You may need to sign up for a pricey cable package so they can watch reruns of their favorite crime drama.
Any conversation related to money can be sensitive, and even if you have a general sense of what your parent can contribute, Barlowe encourages you to tread lightly. She suggests an opener such as: “The ‘rent’ at my house is X dollars. What do you think is reasonable or fair to contribute?” While most parents recognize the additional outlay and want to help cover bills, an upfront conversation can help you avoid any awkwardness.
If you’re not sure what’s fair, Barlowe recommends looking at your bills over several months after they’ve moved in and showing your parent the differences. Explain that your utility expenses used to be X dollars and now they’re Y and see if they are willing to cover the difference. If not, try compromising and ask your parent to put on a sweater or make a conscious effort to turn off the lights when they leave a room.
If your parent can’t contribute financially, try to find tasks that will help them feel productive and ease your burden, such as folding laundry, helping with food preparation or reading bedtime stories to your kids. “It’s not a good feeling to be on the other end where you’re not contributing,” Barlowe says. “They’re not a guest, and they’re not helpless.” However, be cognizant of how much is too much, especially when it comes to childcare. Your parent may have trouble keeping up with your kids, so choose activities that are suitable for everyone, such as a board game or puzzle.
HOW WILL YOU HELP YOUR PARENT ACCLIMATE?
If your parent is moving in from out of town, they may feel lonely. After all, they’ll be leaving behind their community and support system. To help them adapt, you may need to invest time in going to appointments with new doctors or helping them find a local financial advisor and attorney to update their personal documents (most documents, such as a power of attorney, are state-specific).
It’s also important that you help your parent bridge between their past life and their new one. Barlowe suggests finding local opportunities where they can enjoy their favorite activities or hiring a companion to provide social support.
HOW WILL YOUR SIBLINGS CONTRIBUTE?
In 43 percent of caregiving families in the U.S., one child carries the bulk of the responsibility of caring for a parent. If this is the case for you and your family, your siblings should still be involved in the caregiving process. They might consider managing your parent’s medical paperwork or providing respite care so you can go on vacation. “Whether they make a weekly phone call, do the online banking or send extra money to help cover expenses, talk through what each sibling will do,” Barlowe says.
If you decide to have your parent come live with you, “be prepared for an adjustment period,” Barlowe says. “Our lives are fluid and while some issues will get harder, many will become easier once your parent has been there awhile. Together, you’ll find your new normal.”