Making the Decision to Share Your Home
Part 2 of a 2-Part Series
In the April issue of Caring Right at Home, we looked at some of the issues of family dynamics that come into play when making the decision about having an older loved one live in your home. Read on for more things to consider…and some suggestions for making the new living arrangement work as successfully as possible for everyone in the family.
Your Home and Neighborhood
One of the major considerations in having an older person who needs care move in with you is the size and layout of your home. Issues of safety, privacy, and convenience need to be considered. Here are some questions to ask:
- Is there a private bedroom available for your loved one? If not, how will you deal with people’s need for privacy?
- Is the bedroom that’s available easily accessible? Can you get to it without climbing stairs? Is there an outside entrance?
- What will you do with the person’s furniture and belongings? Can all of them, or some of them, be incorporated into your household to add a sense of familiarity for the person? What arrangements for storage or sale of unnecessary household goods can be made?
- Is your home safe for an older person?
- Even if the person has no mobility problems now, is your home adaptable to canes, walkers, or wheelchairs if the need should arise in the future?
- Is the house in a relatively safe neighborhood, so that your loved one can take walks, get to the bus stop, or visit neighbors?
Finances and Household Chores
Money issues are often the most awkward to talk about. These are some of the questions to ask:
- Are there expectations from this person in return for sharing your home? Will he or she have household responsibilities?
- Do you expect him/her to pay room and board? To pay for some expenses? Can you afford to have a permanent guest?
- Will any other family members help out financially?
Remember, if you provide more than half the financial support for your parent, you may be able to claim an additional personal exemption on your federal and state income tax returns.
The way your family lives its common life is an important consideration in deciding whether to share your home. Consider questions like these:
- What effect will having this person living with you have on your social life and that of children and other family members?
- Does he/she have friends near where you live? Will the person expect to entertain friends in your home?
- Will you include this person in all your outings? Which ones will be suitable?
- Is your loved one accustomed to a schedule like your household’s? Is he or she willing and able to adapt to the family schedule for mealtimes and other important routine household events, or will changes need to be made?
- Is the person willing and able to cook on occasion? Does he or she have any special dietary needs or restrictions that would affect the household?
- Does the person drive? Have a car? Is he or she willing and able to use public transportation? If not, will he/she depend on you for transportation to the doctor, the store, to see friends? Is that compatible with your schedule?
It is a very different thing to share a home with a loved one who is active and independent, than it is to live with the same person when he or she is quite confused and his or her needs for personal and nursing care are extensive. Think about these questions:
- How long are you envisioning your loved one living with you? Does he/she share that assumption? From the beginning, is this understood to be a limited or open-ended arrangement?
- What will you do if this person becomes ill or disabled and needs more of your time and care? How will you decide if the person needs more care than you can provide at home? What if you and your loved one disagree about this?
- What will happen if one or more members of your household is unhappy with the homesharing arrangement?
- If you have children living in your home, what effect will their growing up and leaving home have on your arrangement? Will having this person living with you significantly affect your plans?
- If you become ill, or need a break, what resources are available for respite care?
How to Make It Work
There is no magic formula for making a home run smoothly with two, three, or four generations under its roof. There are, however, several strategies that can help.
Identify and follow a set of rules. Decide how members of the family will share household chores, limited bathroom facilities, limited transportation resources, and time. Trades and rotations may be appropriate. When you work out reasonable allocations or schedules, put them in writing and post them. Encourage everyone to get in the habit of respecting what’s been agreed to.
Establish a family habit of effective communication. Letting people know what is coming up is always important. If your mother has scheduled minor out-patient surgery and is looking forward to a quiet weekend to recover, your teenage son will appreciate knowing this ahead of time—before he invites friends over. If you and your spouse are hosting a party that will last late into the evening and perhaps disturb your parent’s rest, he or she might want to spend the night with a friend.
Two simple approaches to insuring good communication are periodic family meetings and a common family calendar posted in a conspicuous place. If yours is a particularly large or active family, you may want to go to the extreme of copying the family calendar for each family member each week, and having regular weekly family meetings.
Work out appropriate financial trade-offs. Having a parent or other relative or friend live with you can both save that person money and increase the costs of running your household. Specific trade-offs aimed at balancing these costs and benefits can help everyone see the benefit side. It might be reasonable, for example, to ask siblings who would otherwise be helping to pay for a parent’s care to contribute to your household expenses.
Develop and follow a plan. It is reasonable to adopt and follow a plan that places limitations on the commitment by both sides. For example, you, your loved one, and your family may agree to a six- month trial period. Or you, your relative, and your siblings may work out a rotation system that meets everyone’s needs and limitations. Knowing ahead of time that there are limits to what you and others are willing or able to do, and realizing what those limits are, can and should be a part of your planning.
Help your loved one stay active and involved. Perhaps the most important commitment you can make is the resolve to make it possible for your older friend or relative to remain active and involved in a wide range of activities and relationships for as long as possible. This means making arrangements for transportation so that he or she can participate in church or social events. It also means actively encouraging him/her to invite friends into your home for meals or visits. It means involving the person in family discussions of current events and issues or concerns that affect the family.
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