Options for Multigenerational Living for Seniors

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Sometimes the choice for long-term care seems obvious: You live in a big house with plenty of room, and your parent or other relative has only a limited amount of space. Of course your mother will come to live with you. Or the reverse may be true. Your mother is the one rattling around in a big house, and you desperately need more space.

But if the move (by either of you) involves not just living in a different home but in a different part of the country, there may be difficulties leaving everything familiar and adjusting to the new location. A trial period may help determine whether this option is reasonable for the long term.

Another option may be for both of you to find a new home that has more accessible features and is in a convenient location for everyone.

Some adult children and parents sell their homes and pool their money to buy a new home with room for both generations. A new home gives everyone a fresh start and minimizes some of the difficulty in adding more people to an already established household.

Some builders are responding to this market by offering homes that have separate entrances, two master bedroom suites, a den or family room that can be converted to a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, and other flexible areas. Universal design features, such as wide doorways and few steps, are often part of the package, appealing to both the older generation and younger families with small children.

No solution is perfect, and the advantages and disadvantages for each family vary. Before you make a decision, consider all the pros and cons of each option

Have a relative move in with you

When the right choice seems to be having a parent or other older relative move into your home, considering how the space will work and how family roles will change is paramount to making the decision.

Organizing the space

If you are thinking about bringing a parent or other relative to live with you, making sure that the space in your home is adaptable should be a priority.

Features of the home that are second nature to you — steps down to the laundry or up to the bedroom, a front door that is hard to open, kitchen cabinets that are hard to reach — may be difficult for an older person to navigate. The lighting may be fine for you but not for a person with poor vision.

Changing family roles

With all the best intentions, bringing an older family member to live with you requires some major adjustments as family roles and responsibilities change.

  • Think about how comfortable you are with becoming the head of household when the household now contains the parent who has always been in charge. And how will the parent feel about ceding control?

  • Be prepared for resistance from a parent who may no longer feel (or be) in control and may fear losing independence. Involving your parent and all other affected members of the family in decision making is a good strategy, but not everyone will express their views candidly in a family meeting. Some one-on-one conversations may be necessary.

Prepare to move into your parent's home

Instead of having your older relative move in with you, you may consider moving in with that person. You may be struggling to pay the rent for a small apartment while your parent has plenty of space. This may be a more viable option if you live near each other and you would not have to move to another community, perhaps even to another part of the country.

  • Moving more than a short distance may require you to give up a job or personal relationships. Is this something you are prepared to do?

  • Moving in with a parent involves a different psychological adjustment than is the case when your parent moves in with you. If you are moving back to the home you grew up in, the relationship with your parent may start to repeat those earlier times, even though you are now an adult.

  • If this potential move is prompted by a parent's illness or accident, you may assume that the move is temporary, but it may be difficult to alter once you are in residence.

  • If you will be moving with partner and or children, consider how they will adjust to the new situation and how your parent will adjust to them.

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