February 14, 2018

Mom and Dad are Moving In...With You: How To Prepare


He saw them at the far end of the corridor. Of course, their flight would use the most distant gate. Two slightly slumped figures, rolling carry on bags and dad with his cane, moved slowly toward him. Unable to pass security, he and his youngest daughter could only wait until they passed the barrier protecting the secure from the unwashed masses. Why didn't they ask for an electric cart, he asked himself. 

His parents had left their farmhouse home of forty years and were destined for the spare bedroom in his house, their new home, after living independently proved to be too much for dad. How would his children, heavens, even the two cocker spaniels, adapt to having Gran and Grandad as permanent parts of their lives? There were going to be major changes and adjustments ahead.


This scenario is one faced by a growing number of us. With retirement communities financially out of reach for many, grown children become the answer for parents who need an increasing level of care. Certainly, such a situation comes with all sorts of adjustments, some good, good not so much. At a minimum, private space and control of one's schedule are affected. Depending on their condition, a serious commitment to caregiving is made.

Several years ago I used input from the book, When Your Parent Moves In, by David Horgan, as an excellent resource to write about this difficult process. His suggestions make just as much sense now, maybe even more so as our parents are requiring more of our time and concern.

As Mr. Horgan notes, having mom or dad (or both) move in with your family can be a mixed blessing. Unexpected problems can cause family arguments, financial stress, even increased divorce. The arrangement can also be enriching, a strong statement of love for parents from their grown children, and a lesson in responsibility for younger family members.

He suggests these considerations be a part of your preparation for blending a few different generations:


  • Be open: Have a clear and open discussion with your family, siblings, spouse, kids, and ultimately your parent(s), to decide if making the move is the right decision for all parties involved.  Discuss:
    1. The pros and cons
    2. The different ways this move will effect the family
    3. The ways each family member’s routines may be disrupted. 
    4. Expectations that may differ from “the way things have always been”
    5. Any possible monetary issues that could arrive
    6. Compromises that each family member will have to make
  • Medical Management: An elderly parent is apt to have a litany of doctor appointments, medication, and needs.
    1. With the help of medical and geriatric care professionals, assess your parent’s medical needs and gain a clear understanding of how those needs will affect you and your family.
    2. Gather all possible medical resources, containing both specific people and organizations, to minimize frustrations as well as possible mistakes.
    3. Use your support network to create and implement a plan as well as back-up plans. 
  • Moving Day: Moving is stressful under any circumstance. Moving in an aging parent entails a permanent lifestyle change and one that may be met with resistance, which can make it even more difficult. Plan for every detail upfront to minimize the potential strife.
    1. Ready yourself for possible volatile emotions and flaring tempers from all parties.
    2. Use your utmost compassion and support when you decide what stays and what goes.
    3. The move may not have been a parent’s first choice. Avoid sweeping decisions, such as throwing away Grandma’s 50 year-old collection of National Geographics, without discussing it with her first. 
    4. Decide ahead of time on furniture placement.
    5. Make a disbursement plan for who gets items that cannot fit into your house. (Storage, give away, other siblings.)
  • House Rules: Your parent is used to running the household with his/her own rules. Everyone must openly acknowledge that each family member must compromise to make the new living arrangement successful. It is important to create a plan that is respectful to all parties, so your parent doesn’t feel slighted and uncomfortable as the “newcomer” to your home. You also want to make sure that you and your spouse do not feel like outsiders. Decide on:

    1. Chores
    2. Who waters the plants and feeds the cat etc.
    3. Who helps and who doesn’t help in the kitchen
    4. How you like laundry done
    5. Bathroom etiquette
    6. What you make for dinner and what time
    7. When are lights out, and television off



As Mr. Horgan points out, there will be changes in everyone's life that could last years. As the parent declines, nursing care will become more of an issue and a major expense that someone will have to shoulder. This is not an issue with easy answers. But, it is certainly a good idea to work out as many details as possible ahead of time. There will be enough stress as it is.

I'd be quite interested in your comments, especially if you have had to face this problem, either as the adult child or the parent who moves in. Your experiences and feedback will be quite valuable to us all. If you'd feel more comfortable  sharing anonymously, that is perfectly fine.

22 comments:

  1. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers at the age of 75. There, I said the "It" word. My oldest son was already living with her. Eventually, my middle son moved in and my oldest son moved out. She stayed at home until her last six months, when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 82. Her last six months she lived with my youngest son, in the basement of my ex-husband's house. She thought we were still married, which created some hilarious moments. My ex loved my mom (she had financially helped him out a lot), and took her to lunch with him, and to his office (self-employed) every day. My youngest son worked there also. I could not take her to work with me because I work for the government. I took her home with me on weekends and we would sit out underneath the mulberry tree for hours. She was very physically active, and went to Sam's with my ex, pushing the grocery cart on Wednesday, and she died on Sunday (after entering the hospital on Halloween, which was Friday).....She was very physically active and knew all of us. I am not saying there were not issues. My two oldest sons do not get along, and with both of them trying to take care of her, there were major blowups. However, she lived in her house until the last six months of her life, when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Previously, my middle son who lived with her, had taken her to the doctor when she needed to go during the week. He scheduled his work schedule around her and will inherit her house from me, since he took care of her for the longest period of time...years. I did all of her doctor appts. when I was able to get off work (court does not get cancelled because you have a parent with cancer), with the help of my youngest son, and took her to UAB for the expert on pancreatic cancer. My uncle, who also has alzheimers, has moved in with his daughter, my cousin, along with his wife of 60 years. My cousin built an addition onto her house for them and they had to move to the next state over, because cousin still works. They are relatively well off, as is my cousin, so that probably helps, and my cousins hired live-in help. I am not well off, but I did have a house full of sons and an ex who helped. My daughter was in the college hundreds of miles away, when my mother was diagnosed, and then in the Navy thousands of miles away, so she could not participate.

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    1. It sounds like your extended family pitched in whenever possible to help with your mom, even changing work schedules when possible. That is the way we would hope it works if it is ever our turn to need that level of support. Add in the uncle's situation and your family is really banding together.

      Obviously, it isn't easy but your story is encouraging. Thanks for sharing it all.

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    2. We also have another uncle who is in the assisted living home. My cousin mentioned above is over the financial, and I am over the health care, since I live in the state where he lives, and I live the closest to him out of all the family (he has no children)... My other cousin, the nurse, tells me what to do when I am called because medicine is definitely not my "thing"...we all work together...somewhat...I also have an aunt, my mother's youngest sister, who has alzheimers and is now 79/80 and whose husband is a nightmare to deal with. (no, he does not have alzheimers even though he is 92...he is mean, has always been mean and underhanded, and age has not improved the nasty cuss)..so we all stay away... and only contact occasionally to make sure aunt is ok... sigh. It works well, if all members let it work well. It is a nightmare if someone decides to be a donkey.

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    3. I am beginning to think you may have the beginning of an interesting movie. The key for all of you caregivers to keep your sanity is working together. Best of luck.

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    4. Yea, we put the "fun" in dysfunctional...sometimes

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  2. We moved from Washington DC to Charleston, SC to be closer to our children and grandchildren. We live maybe 20 minutes from them.

    Our son built a beautiful home on the water that has a multi-car garage along with a large, beautiful 1 bedroom apartment. Son and DIL are really upset that we chose to live in our own place rather than with them. I am 76 and so far in pretty good health as is my wife.

    Now the talk is “when dad dies.” WHAT?? Seriously, kids and gkids have open talks about when dad dies. Even when our Phoenix daughter and SIL and gkids come to Charleston the talk easily slides to when dad dies. Wife/mother and I laugh. She says “when dad dies” she is staying put in our really pretty “cottage home” we bought in a semi- retirement village.

    Son, daughter, and favorite niece argue about where “she” will live when “dad dies.” Now, they are discussing that she will live with each of them for 4 months as the seasons change. You should also understand that “said gkids” are teens now and do not need babysitters. And I am not planning on dying.

    I guess we should be happy that at least we are wanted. Or at least my wife is.

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    1. Yes, be glad they are concerned. Too many families aren't this way.

      Being discussed in the third person when you are sitting right there is a little irritating: "You know I can hear you" comes to mind. Sometimes grown children can go into protective mode a little too aggressively. Let them know you love them and their worry about you and your wife. When the right time comes, their help will be very much appreciated. But for now, you and she are fine and love how you live.

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  3. By the end of the month I will be moved into my childhood home and then bring my 92 year old father to live with me. Thanks for the tips. I know it will be a challenge. I may blog my experience for the benefit of others.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. Blogging how it goes would be helpful. Each grown child/parent experience is unique but there are common threads that might help everyone.

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  4. I feel like we did everything we could possibly do to ease my father-in-law toward the ultimate end. While he was living in Massachusetts we became a bit worried about his drinking and driving among other things. He came to Philly for a visit while we were renting, (and hoping to buy), a house in town. He liked the area and after much behind the scenes juggling we were able to convince him to sell his house and move to an apartment near us. That worked well for about a year. They raised his rent and he was not happy about it. So I came up with the idea of buying a duplex where he could have his own place but we could keep a closer eye on him. It took almost a year to make that happen but, it was well worth it. He still had his big old land yacht (Cadillac) and got around independently for a few years. Then one evening he practically set the house on fire by leaving a wooden trivet under a pot while the burner was on and setting off the fire alarm. Thank God we were home! After that we were afraid to leave him alone at all. So we found an assisted living place in the city that he agreed to. As everyone knows, that's the last stop.
    It was a difficult fifteen years or so but, I'm grateful we were able to be there for him without it hampering our lives all that much.
    As for myself, and I think I speak for Dave, too, I do not ever want to be a burden in any way to my children and feel it's best to have a plan of our own so that doesn't happen. Maybe we should start thinking about that more closely. yikes!
    b

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    1. Thanks for the details on your FIL's journey and how you and Dave made it work. It is never easy is it?

      Having all the paperwork and legal stuff taken care of, cleaning out all the junk (photo closet?!!), and agreeing to a housing situation that is safe is what we should all do for our kids ahead of time. Unfortunately, it is human nature to assume we always have tomorrow....until we don't.

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    2. Barbara,

      My parents gathered my sister and I many years ago and made us "promise" that we would not bring them in to our households when they became old, frail, and/or suffering from dementia. They were adamant. So we had a plan. And then they became ill, confused and scared.

      The "plan" went out the window when it became clear they could not cope or implement the program they had envisioned. They suddenly rejected the idea of a care facility. My mother passed six years ago, and could not have navigated the elder care system without our help. The promises she wanted us to keep rapidly gave way to "can I come to live with you?"

      My father wants to die in his home that he built with his own hands. I am going to grant him that wish, but it has become clear to me that "plans" that one makes when they are younger and rational can go out the window when the cognition fails. So we can make our plans, but what happens when we become someone different than the planners?

      It is a difficult time.

      Rick in Oregon

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    3. The best laid plans.....thanks, Rick for the reality check. Yes, sometimes all the planning in the world can not be enough.

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    4. Honestly, there was never a definite plan as we worked our way through dad's last years. I know if we both become feeble our sons would do whatever they could to help but, I'd like to think we'd have the final say in where we go.
      b

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  5. Both Ken and I grew up with our grandparents living with us in our parents’s home.This used to be the norm! But when Ken’s folks got very old and frail they refused to go live with the 3 different family members who offered them a home. They insisted on staying in a large three story home they could not keep up.They called my youngest brother in law who lived half an hour away, at work, at home, often, for help. He worked long hours and was raising his three teens and once in a while even wanted to hang out with his wife.It was an EXHAUSTING decade for all. I won’t do that to our son. He is not married and likely will be traveling the USA in his RV when he retires, so I will have plans in place for me and Ken to move to a small 55 plus community with services or a place like Friendship Village where care will be available.And safety! And friends!! I was not one of the family members who offered. It’s a tough decision. My mom in laws personality was such that I could not have sacrificed the quality of our lives to have her in our house,though I loved her dearly. Luckily, 3 other members were willing.. but they stubbornly would not accept any changes in their lives and make the right choice.. I do learn from other’s actions so I will let that be a huge life lesson to me..

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    1. The one thing we can't predict is how we will react when we start to seriously slide, both physically and mentally. Rick's comment above is a good example. So, the best we can do is make the plans, communicate our wishes clearly, and cross our fingers that when the time comes we will allow our family to do what is best for us.

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  6. Gosh, I wouldn't want you to think EVERYONE has a loving, caring family. :D My husband and I have three middle-aged sons between us. NONE of them call, and wouldn't know if we dropped down dead. All our money is going to the grandkids.

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    1. I am sorry for your situation, Anne, but I know not everyone has a family that cares enough to step up when it is time.

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  7. I have had a lot of long phone conversations lately with a good friend who is struggling to help aging parents. Her MIL, in her 90’s, has developed cognitive difficulties, and for the last couple of years has resisted in-home help or the idea of moving out of her condo. She lives in a distant city, and my friends found themselves flying there every two weeks or so to take her to medical appointments, help her manage her finances, do housecleaning, etc. The MIL finally agreed to move into assisted living, and is happy there. However, immediately after that, my friend’s mom who lives in her town and is a capable and energetic woman in her 80’s, fell on the ice and broke a bone. Once she was released from the hospital, my friend had to move into her house to help her for a couple of weeks. Now that my friend is back home, she still is spending several hours a day with her mom helping her. Meanwhile, my friend’s dad, who lives in a distant city, is caregiver to his wife with Alzheimer’s, and my friend is trying to help from afar. For one reason or another, the parents are unlikely to come live with my friend, but nevertheless her retirement years so far have revolved around caregiving.

    Jude

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    1. Heavens, that amount of caregiving work tires me out just reading it. This sounds like more than the normal load of problems, but obviously there is a lot of love and concern taking place. I wish your friend strength and endurance, and a break sometime soon to recharge.

      Thanks, Jude.

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  8. My situation is so different. MyMy mom was a capable, active person at ageage 76 when she had a near fatal car crash. She suffered from a broken femur two broken ribs ,a punctured lung , and a laceration on her head that required 62 stitches .We had no time to plan .

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    1. Oh, so sorry to learn of your situation. Yes, a car crash of that severity can force everyone involved into a hurry-up decision process. I hope she has recovered and you have been able to catch your breath.

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