Whether or not an aging parent should live with their adult children raises issues for the parent and the children. There is no single or easy answer.
It usually starts when one spouse dies and an aging parent suddenly seems alone and vulnerable. The parent may bring it up first, referencing a long ago conversation when the adult children said they would never put their parent into a nursing home or similar facility. As described in Forbes’ “Aging Parents and The Rise of the Multi-Generation Household,” this promise is usually made when the parents are well and the natural response “of course not” is an easy answer. But situations change, and the answer is not always so simple.
The Dickensian concept of “being put in a home” is based on largely outdated ideas of poorhouses and debtors’ prisons. While perhaps a bit drastic, it may not be that far off for Depression-era kids who saw the treatment of seniors before Medicare and Medicaid provided some care. Some nursing homes are still found to violate government regulations, but most are decent, well managed and comfortable places to care for seniors who need a lot of attention for a multitude of medical needs. Licensed board and care homes may be another option for long-term care, usually at a lower cost than nursing homes. They don’t offer skilled nursing, but they do have a more intimate environment with a less institutional atmosphere.
Families who must address this question should look at how things might be in the future, both short and long term. Can family members manage a parent’s care needs—with more medical equipment and increasingly frequent trips to the doctor, therapy and the pharmacy for meds? An adult child has to assume increasing obligations to transport and accompany the parent to his or her appointments, advocate and care for the parent, and monitor the medications, diet and follow-through. This burden can become unbearable for some, and living with a parent and satisfying all of his or her care needs can be too great a task.
For some families with kids in the house and both parents working, it can be nice to have a grandparent there to babysit—if he or she is able—and participate with the family chores. As the grandparent ages, children can learn responsibility in helping to care for a dependent person, which can help them mature. Plus, the one household can make the best use of the aging parent’s assets. But this situation doesn’t always work out, and it isn’t for everyone. There can be tension from having an in-law in the house, and adoring grandchildren may grow into reluctant teens.
The best choice moving forward requires planning and discussion among all involved. The parent, the adult children and their family members need to be fully aware of the potential challenges that may come up. There needs to be backup plans in case there is a need for outside help to come into the house. All parties must be aware that a time may come when a decision must be made to move the aging parent into a care facility that will provide necessary care.
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