Aging in place continues to increase in popularity among Americans. However, what to do when you notice an aging parent or loved one struggling to live safely at home is an issue many of us face. Troublesome signs like a dirty home in poor repair, unpaid bills, piles of mail, food out of date or spoiled in the kitchen, poor personal hygiene, and trouble managing medications are all warning signs that your senior is struggling. Or perhaps when visiting, you may notice a loss of weight, disoriented behavior, or lonely and depressive behaviors. When these signs reveal themselves to you, it is time for action. Whether your older relative should move in with you or into a type of senior living community requires some considerations.
Even before the pandemic, polls began showing a shift to the trend of a century ago when most seniors lived with their adult children in a multi-generational house. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reports that older parents are moving in with their adult children and comprising a larger component of shared living than occurred a generation ago. AARP states, “Today, 14 percent of adults living in someone else’s household are a parent of the household head, up from 7 percent in 1995.” And with many Americans now working from home, keeping a watchful eye over a parent is easier than ever. But even with this becoming more popular, it is not the right situation for everyone. Careful consideration should be taken.
If you consider moving your loved one into your home, there are several things to consider before making a move. For example, you might think the idea is fantastic, but how will it affect other current household members, spouses, or children? Does everyone get along, or will you be importing conflict? Are your lifestyles compatible regarding quiet hours, entertaining guests? Is smoking a habit of someones that needs consideration? Is your home big enough, or will someone have to give up their room?
Safety is a key area to consider. Is your home suitable for the needs of your loved one? Can they be housed on a single floor without having to use stairs? If they reside in your active home, what modifications can you make to create a safer environment? Things like night lights, the removal of area rugs, or adding grab bars in the shower or an additional handrail on the stairs can make big safety differences.
Another area to be mindful of is how comfortable your loved one will feel in your home. Can your parent bring their familiar belongings and furniture with them? Perhaps it is feasible to create a “mother-in-law” apartment with a separate entrance. Or maybe it works for your family to invest in a backyard cottage, the so-called granny pod.
Also, setting up roles and expectations in advance can make this transition smoother. Who will be tasked to help your parent? The fact that your parent now lives with you should not mean you are at their service all of the time. Many well-meaning adult children make this mistake. At the outset of living together, a parent is usually fairly self-sufficient. Still, in time they will require more, and if you do not begin your living experiment employing outside help, you will fall into a trap where your time is no longer your own. When possible, be sure to also share tasks with other family members and make them do their part. Find local senior support services and check out professional in-home care to ensure your loved one becomes accustomed to others providing support to them.
Living in a family multi-generational home isn’t for everyone. Fortunately, when safety is a key factor and your aging parent or loved one cannot live alone in his or her own home anymore, moving in with you is not the only option. But if not in your home, where will your loved one go? After all, many families find living together can save money but not necessarily sanity.
When living with family is not the right solution for a family, you can still help your parents or aging loved ones find alternatives to living alone. Your parent might prefer a “shared-living” situation where adults live under the same roof but are not romantically involved; this is a sort of roommate experience. Or perhaps a retirement community with defined living stages—from independent to assisted to full-time care—would be the best solution. Talk it out as a family. Even if the conversation is difficult to have, it is better than responding to a catastrophic fall or illness, forcing a change of housing for your parent or loved one.
Like most areas, open communication goes a long way toward paving strong relationships. Find out how your aging loved one feels about the next step when they will no longer be able to live alone. Your parent’s thoughts may surprise you.
In addition to communicating as a family, enlisting your team of professionals is a necessary move to protect everyone involved. An elder law attorney can help understand the ramifications of a senior loved one living with relatives, selling his or her own home, and more. If you are at the stage of a senior leaving her own home, it's also essential to make sure she has an estate plan in place. An accountant should be consulted to understand tax areas such as whether you can claim your parent as a dependent on your tax return. And financial advisors and planners and insurance professionals should be part of the picture as your aging loved one needs to plan for savings and assets and understand how to manage premiums and policies.
Goodwill goes a long way to a successful living arrangement but so does preparedness. Having pre-set a structure to address issues will allow you to focus on enjoying your time with your loved one. If you have questions about how elder law figures in these decisions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact McCreary Law Office or call the Jacksonville, FL office at 904-425-9046 or the Houston, TX office at 713-568-8600.
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