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Wilburn: Do your research before taking in an elderly parent
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Moving in with the kids

Should your parent move in with you when his or her abilities decline? The answer differs for every family, but here are some considerations:

Initiate open discussions
Open and honest discussions with your parent and other family members is the essential first step when you are trying to decide whether relocating your parent is the right thing to do. Family meetings with your parent, partner, children, siblings, and other key people will help everyone share their views and will help you decide how best to proceed. In this process, talk about all possible residential options, each person’s role in the transition, the type of care to be provided, changes in lifestyle, finances and the physical setting of the new home. Your local Area Agency on Aging may also be a resource.

Assess the level of care needed
As your parent gets older, their care needs will change. If your parent lives with you, be realistic about what you will and will not be able to do. Develop a strategy for getting additional help. You and your parent probably love each other dearly, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have some misunderstandings or disagreements if he or she moves in. Issues that you may have not thought about since childhood may erupt. Be honest with yourself and do not allow unresolved conflicts or obligations to create more pressure than you can manage. Remember that not only is your relationship with your parent changing, but your relationship with others in your household, and your grown siblings, will also change.

Consider various living arrangements
Moving your parent into your home is one option, but you and your family should take some time to consider other living arrangements as well. The type of housing and living arrangement will largely depend on your parent’s care needs, finances and available options. All family members, including the parent, need to discuss, understand and accept the benefits and drawbacks of various living arrangements. You can anticipate that there will likely be challenges in their day-to-day personal care, such as bathing or changing an adult diaper. Evaluate your own health and physical abilities.

Anticipate different family dynamics
You may need to be prepared for making decisions about your parent’s daily routine — decisions that they are accustomed to making for themselves. A parent can show their resistance to losing independence in some pretty creative ways. If you find yourself with hurt feelings or resentments, bring them up in calm, caring discussions with your parent. Sooner or later, the financial issues of caregiving must be discussed. For many families, these discussions can become emotional. This may be a time to involve an impartial third party such as a therapist and/or financial advisor.

You visited your mother for the holidays and found her refrigerator nearly empty, her checkbook misplaced and her finances in complete disarray. Or, your father has neglected to take his diabetes medications, nearly putting him into a coma.

When adult children face these situations, the question soon arises, “How can I support my parent’s independence while trying to keep her safe?”

Most communities now offer a variety of senior care options based on the amount of support that the senior may need. These vary from services that are provided in the senior’s own home, such as housecleaning help, all the way to 24-hour care in a residential skilled nursing facility. For many families, the decision about whether a parent should move in with an adult child is somewhere on that continuum.

Some families feel an obligation to invite a parent into their home when caregiving needs increase. The families believe this is the “right” or “best” thing to do, regardless of other options. In fact, depending on individual circumstances, there may be other caregiving options available that would provide better quality of care. And some adult children just assume that Mom would prefer to move in with them, but Mom may have very different ideas.

Despite the challenges, providing support and care for your parent in your home can be a very rewarding experience. Your parent can contribute to the family through sharing his or her past and can become an integral part of your household. Multi-generational households can have many strengths.

Finally, remember that you can provide important care for a parent even if he or she does not live in your home.

Adapted from National Center on Caregiving, 2003.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column appears in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month. Contact: 770-535-8290.

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