5 ways to ease the transition when an aging parent moves in

Moving a parent into your home is a big decision, but it’s a common one: About 9.3 million adults over the age of 65 live with their grown children or grandchildren.1

“Most caregivers go into this with their hearts wide open, but they need to mentally prepare themselves, so that they don’t burn out,” says Diane Carbo, R.N., a caregiver coach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and founder of Caregiver Relief, an educational resource for caregivers.

Similarly, it can be stressful for an adult parent to rely on their child in a new way. Like any person, they’ll likely want to maintain as much independence as possible.

Here are a few ways to help make the transition easier — on yourself and your loved one.

Before a parent moves in

Set boundaries

It’s possible you may serve as a caregiver for your parent for a while. The average is about 4 years, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. But 15% of caregivers provide care for at least a decade.2

Family caregivers also tend to provide close to 25 hours a week of unpaid care.2 “You need to set boundaries in advance,” says Carbo.

This means being clear about your limits early on, explains Carbo. For example, you may feel that you’ll no longer be able to care for a parent in your home if they become incontinent, or if they have a major fall that requires hospitalization. “You need to be very firm and let your loved one know your limits as much as possible at the beginning of this journey,” stresses Carbo.

Create their own space

If you can, it’s best for both you and your parent to carve out space that’s just for them. This can help them maintain a sense of independence. Of course, how much you're able to alter your home depends on its size and your finances.

If you happen to have a guest room, that could be a great option for mom or dad. If not, a designated space in the living room can go a long way. “It can even just be a certain chair that is their chair,” says Megan Carnarius, R.N., founder of Memory Care Consulting in Boulder, Colorado.

They may also want their own shelf in the kitchen pantry. Talk with them about whether this is their preference or if they’re fine mixing their food with yours. The same goes for laundry. Would they like to keep their laundry separate? For some, having their own laundry basket can help maintain a sense of autonomy, notes Carbo.

Safety-proof your house

Depending on the health or memory issues your parent may be dealing with, you may need to make some safety alterations to your home. “Most homes are made for a young body, not an aging one,” says Carbo. Here are a few things she recommends:

  • Make sure hallways, stairs and rooms are well lit to help with visibility.
  • Consider installing bathroom grab bars for the toilet and tub, as well as bumpers on sharp furniture.
  • Place safety sensors on windows and doors if memory issues are a concern. In that case, “I recommend caretakers do this to alert them if a parent starts to wander,” Carbo explains.

When you’re living together

Incorporate their furniture

Your parent will most likely want to take some sentimental items from their own home. That might include a beloved living room chair or an heirloom dining room cabinet. Try and make room for items that hold meaning for them. Making space for family photos on the wall or a photo album on the coffee table can also offer a sense of familiarity and comfort.

If finances allow, you also may want to encourage them to make their new space in your home uniquely theirs. Purchasing a new lamp or even something smaller, like a new set of coffee mugs, may help soothe a bit of stress during this transition, advises Carnarius.

Make them part of the household

Your parent will likely want to feel useful in your home. Together, determine which responsibilities they can take on. That could include cooking, straightening up or loading and unloading the dishwasher. If your parent is experiencing cognitive decline, be mindful of certain tasks, like cooking in the kitchen.

You can modify tasks as needed. For example, if they don’t have the mobility to do their laundry, they may still be able to sort their clothes, notes Carnarius. “It’s a good idea to make a list of things your parent can do independently, as well as things that you know that they need more support with, so that you don’t hover over them,” she adds. Remember, they're an adult and should be treated as such.

Set up respite care for yourself

Even if you and your parent are still able to go about your days fairly independently, setting up regular respite care may be helpful. Respite care may allow you both to feel more independent, explains Carnarius. Try to create a rhythm and pattern that respects everyone’s life.

If your parent requires a lot of 1-on-1 support, it can take a toll on your responsibilities, energy and mental health. Ideally, you'll want to schedule care so you can set aside time for yourself to decompress. Get connected with local resources using the Eldercare Locator tool run by the U.S. Administration on Aging.3 These resources include hired outside help, as well as community and volunteer programs.

Carnarius also recommends asking other family members to help shoulder some of the caregiving. That may mean, for example, your niece comes over every Saturday morning for 2 hours so you can go grocery shopping. Or, your sister takes Mom out to dinner every Tuesday evening. It may help to involve your parent in setting up this schedule so they feel a sense of control over their activities.

What if living with your parent doesn’t work out?

Despite everyone’s best efforts, there are some cases where moving an aging parent into your home doesn’t work out — for you or them. You may realize you can’t meet their health needs on your own. Sometimes, they can feel isolated and may become depressed.

In these situations, you may want to consider whether an assisted living facility is a better option. Your state’s Area Agency on Aging is the best place to start your research. Find information on services in your area.

Sharing a home with an aging parent can be a rewarding experience for both of you, despite the challenges. Taking the time to prepare and being open to a few key accommodations can make a big difference. For you, it can help keep a sense of your current life. For your parent, it can help them maintain their autonomy. For both, it can help smooth the transition and set everyone up for success.

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