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Togetherness: Keys to Living Well With an Aging Parent

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Age can turn the normal rules of relationships upside down, as parents age and look to—or simply need—their children’s help. If you’re considering a shared living arrangement with a parent, careful preparation ramps up your ability to uphold everyone’s dignity and avoid common missteps. While you plan ahead, remember that preparedness pays off in better relationships and quality of life, and that knowing why your parent needs help is the best way to understand next steps and future responsibilities.

Who moves where?

Sometimes, the best way to share a household with your parent is to live under their roof. Obviously, your circumstances and theirs help determine whether you move in with them or vice versa. If you’re already on your own, with a career, a home, and a family, you’re probably not in a position to uproot yourself for a new living arrangement.

The desire to help can prompt some innovative thinking, but don’t mistake desperation for inventiveness. For example, quitting a job to care for a parent typically isn’t an option for many obvious financial reasons. Above all, base your plans on sound financial reasoning, not a sense of guilt or the simple desire to show how much you care.

Learn, learn, learn

You can’t build a workable plan without considering all aspects of your parent’s situation, and that includes financial as well as physical health. If you’re a constant presence in each other’s lives, you may have a better sense of your parent’s ailments and medications than of any challenges to their fiscal well being. Ask them to show you their budget, debts, and assets so you can find out how—or if—they’ll be able to contribute to a shared living arrangement. At the same time, tally up medications and anything they take on a regular basis, including vitamins and supplements.

Think through practicalities

When you add a new member to your household, you make adjustments and allowances for the change in how you allot rooms and resources. Do you have suitably accessible space for your parent’s quarters, or is this move going to force you to remodel or add on to your home? How will you and your family share responsibilities for whatever caregiving your parent requires? You’ll need a full list of your parent’s care tasks, medication timings, appointments, and other requirements so you can plan to accommodate them. If you need help with care giving, find resources before you actually require them rather waiting till your parent moves in.

Have a frank conversation—with your parent and the rest of your family

Talk about boundaries, expectations, and family dynamics so you truly get everyone, including the children, siblings, and others, on the proverbial same page. If you wait to call a family conference until after the move, you’re apt to find yourself wrangling conflicting opinions.

Conversely, if your entire family buys in to the plan and feels included in the process, you’re less likely to face awkward conversations later on. And even though your parent will rely on you for more support than ever before, remind everyone that independence and privacy can be essential to dignity and self worth. To the extent possible, plan your setup to build in times and places for your parent to be alone.

Understand opposition

Put yourself in your parent’s shoes. If the tables were turned, you might feel concern about the prospect of losing your independence, and that concern could translate into resistance to the types of plans and suggestions you’re about to make. Keep your approach straightforward, honest, and diplomatic, and remember that some medical conditions, including forms of dementia, can increase the tendency to irritability.

Be a diplomat

Avoid comments that sound like you’re challenging your parent’s capabilities and mental state. An older adult may have trouble remembering new things, so you may need to show them how to use the security keypad or streaming entertainment service more than once, ideally without dwelling on the repetition. At the same time, some elders thrive on digital devices, so don’t assume your parent won’t catch on. An open mind always helps make new living arrangements comfortable.

Keep yourself in the picture

It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. Both your physical and mental health depend on proper rest, and you can’t be supportive of others if you wear yourself out. Find ways to create “me time” so you don’t submerge yourself and your family into caregiver roles that leave no room to be healthy.

Always remember when

If you’re like many children who wind up in shared households with their elders, the very idea of flip-flopping the relationship this way makes you a little uncomfortable. After a lifetime of being your parent’s child, that’s entirely natural. Remember that even if your parent’s capabilities have waned a bit, they’re still the person who helped you become who you are.

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