“Let\’s Live Together”
There are a lot of reasons why parent(s) and their adult children decide to live together. The first and best reason is that everyone just wants to live together. You and your parent have a great relationship, perhaps they live far away, you have the room . . . you want them to come live with you while you both can enjoy the time together.
Or perhaps your parent has suffered a loss such as the death of a spouse, a change in health, suffered a financial setback, lost possessions through fire or some other disaster. It could be anything and although your loved one is generally fine, they just need some time to get back on their feet.
Or perhaps your aging loved one has a physical or cognitive health problem and can\’t live in their own home and, whether for the short term or the long term, living with a family member (you!) is the only option.
Regardless of the reason, moving is an extremely emotional experience. It involves change for everyone on so many levels – which is never easy. And it involves dealing with changing relationships.
Everything, of course, depends on your own unique, personal situation: your relationship with your aging loved one, your finances, the size and configuration of your home, whether or not you have siblings, kids, a job, spouse, etc. and especially on your aging loved one\’s needs and abilities. But whatever the situation, if you want to keep a great relationship, improve or strengthen your relationship – or you don\’t want the relationship to deteriorate to the point where everyone wants to kill each other, your success depends on how you set it up. In other words . . . . . how you plan and prepare for it.
If your aging loved one moves in with you in good mental and physical health, then your focus should be on giving them as much autonomy as possible. That starts with their own room – ideally with its own bath and preferably with it\’s own entrance. I have a friend whose parents came to live with her and she gave them the master suite. What she and her husband sacrificed in space was more than made up for by having her parents in their own space. If possible, you might even consider creating a small apartment on your premises with its own kitchen and entrance (an add-on or a trailer home or a remodeled garage – what they used to call a mother-in-law apartment). If those options aren\’t possible, at least provide them with their own key and the ability to come and go as they please. (But don\’t hesitate to ask for the ‘social nicety\’ of asking that they let you know when they\’ll be out and when they think they might be home. And, of course, you\’ll do the same.)
However, regardless of how independent they may be now, if they are going to be living with you on a long term basis, you do want to anticipate their needs for the future – especially physical or cognitive issues.
I feel very strongly that, when working your aging loved ones (whether they\’re living with you or not) it\’s critical to not think of them as children but to work together as two adults. Never is it more important than when you\’re going to live together. Having said that, however, when setting up living arrangements, it helps to think of the cycle of life. In other words, just as you would set up an infant or toddler\’s room to grow as they do (for example: a child\’s bed to a grown up bed), its equally important to think about your aging loved one\’s needs as their needs become more pronounced (for example: a regular bed to a hospital bed with safety bars). You may also want to consider where an aide might be accommodated if one is eventually needed.
Some additional things to think about include:
- They will need a room that is quiet and private. If you have kids, try not to put them next door.
- If they don\’t have their own bathroom, then make sure they\’re in a close proximity to one – and keep the clutter off the counter tops.
- Put in rails and bars in the bathroom. Perhaps also a place to sit.
- Since climbing in and out of a tub can be difficult, a shower rather than a tub is best.
- If possible, put their bedroom on the ground floor (thus no stairs). If they do have to climb stairs, make sure there are sturdy banisters – perhaps on both sides of the staircase.
- Walking from carpet to hard wood can be a tripping hazard so try to minimize the transitions.
- Make sure any scatter rugs are taped down and with no frayed edges.
- Look at the furniture. Too much and they can\’t navigate around it. Conversely, many elderly “walk the furniture” (walk from one piece of furniture to the next for support) so too little or too rickety and they may not be able to get around comfortably.
- Evaluate the lighting and make sure there\’s not too much or too little. Too much will cause glare and shadows. Too little will make it difficult for them to see clearly.
- Make sure there are light switches at the entrances of all rooms and at the top/bottom of all stairs.
- Make sure the electrical equipment (tv/radio/toaster/clock/etc.) are easy to use and that wires are safely tucked out of the way.
If your loved one has dementia, it\’s also important to make sure the atmosphere is as relaxed as possible. Too much noise and excitement can make them anxious and agitated. Therefore, set aside a “quiet place” (ideally some place other than the bedroom so that they\’re not always stuck in their room) where they can go to get away from the activity. (But make sure that it isn\’t a place that will displace others, such as the room with the television.) However, if you don\’t have a quiet room out of the line of fire, try to set up a sitting area in their bedroom so they don\’t always have sit on the bed.
If your aging loved one is going to be living with you for only a short time (between a couple of weeks to a month), then the first available space (often the family room) isn\’t that bad. It\’s only for a short time. But if they\’re going to be with you longer than that, you need to set up the living arrangements properly. Don\’t wait until you\’re all going crazy. Remember, houses are set up with a “flow” – and they\’re set up that way for a reason. So think about that as you organize the space.
And finally, once they\’re settled in, enjoy the time you have together.
For lots more information, about ‘Senior-izing\’ your home, please listen to the June 9th Age Wise Living radio show. Just go to the Variety Channel at www.VoiceAmerica.com and click on the “Shows” tab, then Age Wise Living, and then click on June.
© Copyright AgeWiseLiving™ 2009 You can find information about how to talk with your aging loved ones in “The Ultimate Caregiver\’s Success System by going to www.AgeWiseLiving.com. While there, sign up for Barbara\’s free monthly newsletter. You can also contact Barbara by calling toll-free (877) AGE-WISE. Barbara E. Friesner is the country\’s leading Generational Coach and expert on issues affecting seniors and their families. She is an adjunct professor at Cornell University and host of Age Wise Living radio show on VoiceAmerica.com.