Most people prefer to retain their independence as they grow older. Surveys show that 77% of adults who have reached the age of 50 want to age in place.
Older people in good health might have many housing options if they decide to downsize. They might move to a less expensive neighborhood, to a smaller home in the same neighborhood, or to an affordable home in a warmer climate. They might instead relocate to a retirement community where they are relieved of the burden of lawncare or making roof repairs.
Unfortunately, some people lose their independence as they grow older. They may be unable to prepare meals or go shopping without assistance. They may need help with the basic activities of daily living, including bathing and getting dressed. When that happens, adult children may need to decide — or help their parents decide — where their parents should live.
Living with Children vs. Assisted-Living
In some cultures, it is normal for parents will live with their children as they grow older, just as children lived with their parents when they were younger. Children in those cultures are expected to make sacrifices for the benefit of their parents. Those cultural norms have often been driven by necessity. Parents move in with children because they lack the financial resources to move elsewhere.
When other options are available, children do not necessarily need to give up a career to care for an aging parent. Parents who have long-term care insurance or a retirement income might be in a position to live in an assisted-living facility, particularly when children can use their earnings to supplement their parents’ income. Some families might decide that making a financial contribution to a parent’s care will result in less financial loss than quitting a job to stay home as a caregiver. When a family would struggle to meet the expense of an assisted-living facility, a child might decide to work from home or to put a career on hold to provide direct caregiving.
Assisted-living facilities might be the best choice when the facility is likely to provide better care for a parent than children can provide. If no family member can stay home to provide the around-the-clock care that a parent needs, a facility that is dedicated to caring for older people may be in the best position to meet the parent’s needs.
Making the Decision
Families may want to save the expense of an assisted-living facility by sharing their home with an aging parent. When parents who are reasonably independent have lost the financial ability to live independently, asking the parent to move in with younger family members might be the best solution.
Families should ask several questions when they decide whether a parent should move in with a younger family member:
What does the parent want? Some parents resist living with adult children because they fear being a burden. Children may be able to overcome those fears by assuring their parents that they will make a place in their home for them out of love, not obligation. Parents should be reassured that younger family members will enjoy their company.
What are the parent’s needs? It may be relatively easy to integrate a healthy parent into a household, particularly if the family home has an extra bedroom. It will be more difficult to integrate a parent who has serious health issues. Many families are not able to provide the same quality of around-the-clock healthcare that a nursing home can offer to a seriously ill parent. A parent who suffers from severe Alzheimer’s disease might be safer living in a facility that specializes in caring for dementia patients.
Is the home suitable for a parent? Adding a parent to the household is easier if an extra room can be converted into a bedroom. That room might need to be on the ground floor if a parent’s mobility is limited. Homeowners should also consider whether they will need to modify the home to accommodate a wheelchair or other specific requirements of a disabled parent.
How do other family members get along with the parent? Ideally, all family members will love and respect a parent who joins their household. If that isn’t true, personality clashes may disrupt a harmonious family. If the parent has never approved of a child’s spouse, bringing the parent into the home might put undue stress on a marriage. The end result could be worse for everyone than finding an alternative living arrangement for the parent.
How will family members divide the family’s care obligations? Family members should have an open and honest discussion about their willingness and ability to provide daily care. An adult child who works from home or who acts as the family’s homemaker will likely take on the lion’s share of caregiving. Grandchildren in the home might seem eager to help until they realize that taking care of a grandparent will take time away from after-school activities. The entire family should have a realistic understanding of the caregiving role each family member should play. If family members aren’t all on the same page, family bonds might be stressed.
What financial contribution, if any, will the parent make to the household? The cost of adding a parent to a household might be minimal. On the other hand, if an adult child needs to stay home from work to care for the parent, the loss of income might make life more difficult for the entire family. The family might avoid that loss by hiring a caretaker, but that extra expense will have an impact on the family budget. Children should explore with their parents whether the financial cost of their new living arrangement can be offset by Social Security, retirement benefits, savings, or other assets that the parent is willing to contribute.
What sources of help are available? Most older adults understand the Social Security and retirement benefits that they can collect. They might be less aware of other support options. Community support services might include transportation, respite care, home health services, nutritional assistance, and other help at low or no cost to the family. Families should explore those services when they budget the cost of adding a parent to their household.
What are the alternatives? Inviting a parent to live in a home should be a decision driven by love, not guilt. When family members have reservations about living with an adult parent, they should weigh all their options. Those might include having parents remain in their existing residence with a visiting or live-in caregiver. Parents might also have a better life in the home of a different child. Moving the parent to an assisted-living or other residential facility could be the best option. Families should consider the cost and benefit of every alternative before deciding what is best for the parent and the family.