How to handle things when mom moves in
As an adult son or daughter, you may be thinking it would be a good idea to share your home with a parent. There is, however, much to think about before blindly jumping into such an arrangement. So, rather than making a hasty (and possibly regrettable) decision, take time to evaluate the following and always consider your parent’s, family’s and your employer’s point of view:
Quality of care: Like many other family caregivers, I lacked the professional healthcare background to help me care for my aging parents. Yes, I could – and did – learn a few things about best practices but I still felt that their care might be compromised under my watch. My preference was then to trust an experienced doctor or nurse at a care facility who could far better tend to wound care, monitor and operate medical equipment, perform medical exams, administer medications, and so on. In my mind it was preferable to delegate these tasks to those who know how best to complete them (and how best to respond to emergency situations, if needed).
Safety: How safe is your home? Bathrooms can be the most dangerous with wet floors and other surfaces; grab bars around the shower/bathtub, a handheld shower, a shower/bathtub chair, and a raised toilet seat may all be needed. Stairs (leading up or down) may be impassible or dangerous. A standard bed mattress may be too soft and could ‘trap” a senior trying to get up in the night. Visit a home health care store and you might be surprised what they have stocked on the shelves. Just one useful find for me was a pole for Mom’s beside. With her Parkinson’s and Leukemia, she was often quite weak and found the pole helpful to grab on to when getting up or down.
Additionally, lifting, transferring, bathing, and dressing requires strength and expertise—I did not have the confidence to do this myself and feared that Dad might fall on my watch. While Dad’s long-term care home staff educated me on the proper use of a stability belt (which I could grip onto and help balance him), I still worried about taking him outdoors.
Mobility: Many family homes are not properly designed with aging-in-place in mind. Doorways are often too narrow for a wheelchair/walker to pass through. Countertops, cupboards, and even light switches may be too high to reach. Carpeting (rather than hardwood or laminate floors) can be difficult for wheelchair/walker users. Even excessive furniture or piles of clutter can become obstacles/safety hazards.
Privacy: Even with close family, many of us like our own “spaces” and quiet time to think, curl up with a book, or watch a show. Creating restful personal space doesn’t mean permanent walls … often, a temporary “escape” can prove to be just the ticket to help a person to rest and recharge.
As a family caregiver, should you choose to have a loved one move in, here are some recommendations to help you prepare for and manage through the transition:
Establish Limits: While maintaining personal routines can be good, setting some boundaries may be appropriate. Sharing a home with Mom/Dad could be distracting for someone who works from home during the day and needs to concentrate. Or, for a family member who works odd hours and will need a restful sleep—set quiet times. Perhaps the family has a set weekly “movie night” where parents and children watch a show together on Netflix or Crave? Setting boundaries—and sticking to them—can be useful. If the bathroom door is closed, knock before entering. Learning to say “no” politely and firmly to unreasonable requests is also key.
Measure Mom / Dad’s furniture: Verify available space. Confirming this in advance can save both time and trouble moving in things that won’t fit. A six-drawer dresser? Downsize. By donating parental belongings to worthy charities (some may even pick up), you can ensure that they will find a good second home and will be greatly appreciated. Select precious items together and keep only what’s needed.
Respect a Senior’s Independence: Mom and/or Dad will have had a lifetime of functioning independently. Not all of us age gracefully and some may have habits that are difficult to live with. One trick to maintaining harmony is to let the senior do what he/she is still willing to do. The job could take a little longer to do or require adaptation, but everybody can be far happier.
Discuss Finances: Money matters can be a delicate issue. But, sharing a home often results in additional expenses (e.g. groceries, a specialized “lift chair”, or full-scale renovations). Don’t be shy or make assumptions here! Talk about it and agree ahead of time. Also, be sure you have Power of Attorney for personal care and finances.
Re-create Routines: If Mom/Dad liked to rise early and enjoy a steaming cup of coffee and toast and jam for breakfast while reading the daily newspaper, try your best to keep these habits in place. By adapting your timelines or encouraging caregivers to follow the same schedule, life may be more comfortable for all.
There is much to consider before you encourage a family member to share your house or move into a basement/in-law apartment. Weigh the options. Discuss things carefully and make sure you’re all on the same page. Communication and preparedness are key, as is flexibility.
Rick Lauber is a book author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide. ricklauber.com