Moving in Together
When we detect vulnerability in our loved ones—whether physical, medical, emotional, or financial—we often want to rush in and fix a problem or protect them. We worry about falls, sudden illnesses, loneliness, whether they are eating properly, are able to manage their bills and finances, and many other issues, real or perceived.
It is at this point that some caregivers arrive at a decision threshold: whether to consider either inviting their care recipients to live with them or to suggest they themselves move in with the loved one. Either decision is major and not one to be made lightly.
Because of the generosity of such offers and the potentially major impact either could have on the lifestyles of everyone involved, this is the time to practice careful forethought and caution. Whether your care recipient is a parent, other relative, or a friend, here are a few things to think through carefully before acting.
The most crucial aspect of living with your care recipient will be clear, honest, communication. If you have a history of good, open communication with your care recipient, it is more likely that the partnership will be successful. But what if the relationship has not be open? Whether life expectancy is long or short, if the parent has historically deferred their needs to accommodate the wishes of their adult child or if the adult child has sacrificed their desires to keep peace in the house, it can be a tough haul. Are you being realistic or do you have idealistic notions of how this will work day-to-day? Have you talked over this potential move with other family members for their input? Do they see pitfalls where you do not? Perhaps information on starting a difficult conversation could help you begin.
If you decide your care recipient should move in with you or if you make the move to live with them, it may be advisable to schedule monthly or even weekly household meetings in the beginning to air any problems that come up. It is imperative that you all practice good communication skills and address honestly any issues that have arisen.
In the interest of clarity, you may want to insist on a contract or agreement that includes the requirement for an updated will, power-of-attorney, and personal healthcare directive or advance care plan before any type of move is considered. Instructions must be explicit and shared with family members to ensure you are not accused of taking advantage of the situation.
One essential conversation will be around boundaries. Spatial boundaries might include private space for each of you—your bedroom could be your ‘off limits’ place where you can escape, at least briefly, the demands of caregiving. Communication boundaries might include no demands until your first morning cup of coffee is consumed. Care boundaries could address what tasks you are and are not comfortable providing, for example personal or continence care. Chore boundaries may be a division of cleaning, cooking, and laundry duties—your role is to help your loved one maintain their independence and be a contributing member of the household, not for you to become ‘the hired help’. There may come a time when you must exert your relationship boundaries. This sometimes happens at end-of-life when need palliative caregivers may be needed, so your only role will be as the loving son, daughter, spouse, or partner in your loved one’s final days.
It will be necessary to think about the other important people in your life and how either type of move could impact those relationships. How will either move affect your spousal relationship? Will there be time set aside for the two of you to connect as a couple emotionally and physically? As your loved one’s condition progresses, how difficult will it be to make your spouse a priority? Are there plans in place for when you take a holiday? Will a sibling step in or will your loved one agree in advance to accessing Facility-Based Respite?
If the decision is to move your loved one in with you, it will be a good idea to schedule a few conversations with children and young people who live in your home. Everyone’s thoughts and feelings about a possible move need to be validated and considered. It can be hard for children to imagine what this change might be like; perhaps you could create a few scenarios, some positive and some negative, and talk them over.
- What if the new housemate is bothered by loud music?
- Will you be expected to give up activities to spend more time with the care recipient?
- How will it work when your friends come over?
- Is there a special project you could work on with your loved one to share time together?
Either move may also affect your relationship with your spouse or siblings, particularly if it is a parent who moves in. You may well become the leader/driver of care and decision making. Before the move takes place is the best time to discuss together how siblings will remain involved in your parent’s life and what you can expect in terms of support, whether respite, financial, emotional, or hands-on care.
Having your care recipient move in may also affect your working life and relationships with your boss and co-workers. If your care recipient has several medical appointments each month and you must accompany that individual, will your employer understand your priorities? Will your colleagues be sympathetic and cooperative if your work hours must be adjusted? You may find some validation for your needs and suggestions on how to resolve these issues in The Working Family Caregiver: Tips for Balancing Caregiving and Career and A Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations.
Demand for care will increase as your loved one ages or their condition progresses. Now is the time to honestly look at your lifestyle and to prioritize what you may give up as care needs increase. Our Where to Begin guide may be helpful in this task. You may also want to consider how their medical condition is expected to progress and the possibility of a critical, unexpected health crisis for your loved one. Is there a Plan B if you were to have a critical, unexpected health crisis?
Your loved one may move into a spare bedroom in your home or you may take over a section/room in the care recipient’s home. It may be a suite, a granny flat attached to the house, or a detached tiny home or granny pod in the yard. Whatever the particular circumstances, everyone needs a place of retreat, their own space where they can access privacy and withdraw from the busyness of the house. Consideration should also be given to how the home can be adapted to meet increasing care needs and decreasing independence.
You will also be integrating different taste palettes with this move. As well, who will do the cooking and how will menus be decided? Give some thought to including some of your loved one’s favourites into the menu. Talk about how family traditions such as suicide-hot wings or sushi night could be affected. Many seniors also eat earlier in the day, and some must do so to accommodate medication demands. How will that work out if they must eat at 5pm but your family doesn’t usually sit down to dinner until 7pm?
If your loved one can no longer travel short distances independently, how would a move impact your freedom to come and go? Friendships and social interactions are essential to good health. If a move is made, will this cut your care recipient off from their social relationships and activities? Will you become the taxi? If your loved one has moved in with you, is there an opportunity for them to entertain and meet with friends privately at their new home? If you have moved in with your loved one, will the same opportunity apply? What are the transportation alternatives?
Ideally, home renovations and adaptations should be completed before a move is made. In planning, you must consider your loved one’s future needs. Structurally, can either home be renovated to meet those changing needs? Who will cover the cost? If your loved one pays for renovations and you own the house, how does that work with sibling inheritances? What if your siblings contribute to the cost of renovating the home you will move into? What are the terms of that agreement? You may want to look at other financial options in Renovating to Age in Place.
Your loved one may be moving in with you or you in with them because they can no longer afford to live independently. Financial contributions to the household must be discussed before you proceed. Will there be an agreement on monthly rental or shared expenses? Everyone’s ability to contribute to the household purse can be strongly linked to self-esteem. Whatever agreement is reached for renovations or rental, it is wise to have things in writing, with all parties signing (including a witness) and receiving copies.
If you will be taking over the management of your care recipient’s finances, you may want to set in place a system for reporting to siblings or others involved so there is transparency and accountability through the duration of your agreement. This can be as rudimentary as a shoebox of receipts or as refined as a spreadsheet and chronological invoice/receipt files. It is up to you and your care recipient to agree on this before the move.
What if it doesn’t work out?
What will happen if you and your care recipient decide to live together and what started out well has deteriorated quickly when, for example, one or more parties became rigid in their expectations and showed no consideration of others in the house. Maybe this move has made your loved one unhappy or perhaps your kids are miserable with restrictions on noise and when friends can come over. Now what do you do?
Before your loved one moves in you should work out Plan B. Even having Plan C or Plan D could be advisable.
You may opt to begin your co-habitation with a trial period of a set number of months. If it is financially feasible, perhaps you could consider keeping your loved one’s home or apartment or your own, for several months after the move just in case it doesn’t work out. There are other considerations with this option, of course. Is it affordable and for how long? What are the rules related to insurance coverage for an unoccupied dwelling? Who will check on the unoccupied dwelling to make sure the furnace is still working and the plumbing didn’t freeze? How often will that person check in? Could your loved one return to their home if they had a higher level of home support? Is there another sibling waiting in the wings for their turn at caring for your parent? What are the wait times for Residential Care Facilities or Nursing Homes. Is senior’s housing or assisted/supported living a viable next step if this arrangement does not work out?
Finally, perhaps you need to agree upon a shared understanding of circumstances that would indicate the need for another move or for a higher level of care.
This could be a wonderful opportunity to deepen your relationship with your care recipient but you must exercise boundaries for your own health and well-being.
This is different from visiting your parent a few times a week and completing chores while there. The requests come day and night now and there is no rest period when you are ‘off the clock’.
Build time into your plan for you.
Ann Marie Mecera says in her article This is what happened when my parents moved in, “While giving care to both live-in parents, I frequently put unrealistic expectations on myself, trying to be the ‘perfect’ daughter by meeting their every need. I have to be extremely intentional about maintaining a healthy balance.”
Schedule regular activities and plan for extra help when your loved one's care needs elevate. Perhaps now is the time to take up the offer made by a friend or neighbour to help? The Helper Sign-Up sheet from our Caregiver Stress Management workshop can make it easier to define a task and accept the offer of help. Just refer the volunteer to the list you keep on the fridge door and ask them to sign-up for whichever task best suits their abilities and time commitment. Here is a sample sheet and blank sheet to make it easier.
You may find some helpful tips in the Multi-Generational Living video series from Home Instead. Please note that there are some American references.
Part 1 - Multi-Generational Living
Part 2 - Determining if this is the best option
Part 3 - Emotional issues to address
Part 4 - Enlisting support
Part 5 - How to prepare your home
(CAPS professionals are not available in Canada)