Preparing to Live with an Aging Parent

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Are you a member of the sandwich generation like I am? Then at one point you may have to prepare your home so you can have an aging parent live with you.

In fact, if you can think back to child proofing your home when you welcomed children, you might find that adult-proofing can be similar.

Caring hands holding aging family member.

evrymmnt // Shutterstock

How to prepare to live with an aging parent

The ranks of American at-home caregivers are growing and expected to grow further. In just over six years, baby boomers will be a generation entirely over the age of 65, according to the Census Bureau. Fully into their retirement years, this large subsection of the U.S. population is expected to lean ever more heavily on our health care system, its workforce, medical technology, and family for care. 

As of 2020, nearly 1 in 5 adults was providing unpaid care for aging family members and friends at home, according to an AARP-backed study from the National Alliance for Caregiving. According to Pew Research Center, about 54% of adults in their 40s are a part of the sandwich generation. It’s the demographic of people who are caring for their own children while supporting an aging parent.

And as older generations of Americans age, their younger family members will increasingly be making decisions in the coming years as to when and how they’ll be cared for. For many Americans, that will involve deciding to live with an aging parent.

That is, they will bring a relative to stay with them at their own home in order to fill in the gaps where the healthcare system is inadequate or costly.

QMedic compiled this list of tips for caregivers to prepare their home to live with an aging parent or another kind of older relative.

Wheelchair with couple talking in background.

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Decide when’s the right time

Right now my mother is perfectly capable of living on her own. However, in the past few years, she’s had a few medical emergencies that concerned me.

Also, I was living 10 hours away in Western Pennsylvania. So, when my husband made the decision to retire, we decided to move to Maine to be closer to my aging mother. Now, God forbid, she has another medical emergency, I’ll only have to drive one hour to meet her at the hospital, not 10 hours.

And should it come to the point where she needs to live with us — or I need to move in with her temporarily — it won’t be a huge hardship since we now live in the same state.

Changes in the aging parent’s home

Experts at AARP and in the healthcare field point to several indicators to pay attention to in aging family members when trying to decide if it’s time to get them to live with you.

  • Does your aging parent’s home space look more cluttered than usual?
  • Is your older relative skipping meals?
  • Is food spoiling in the refrigerator?
  • Has their hygiene slipped?

All of these could be signs that they are struggling to handle physical tasks around the house on their own. Or, they are doing them less frequently because of cognitive decline.

Signs of cognitive decline in a family member could include difficulty completing a train of thought, trouble remembering past family events or even just knowing what errands they ran that week. It can also be accompanied by anxiety and a short temper, according to Mayo Clinic.

Safety changes when aging parent moves in

If you live in a two-story house, stairs may be one of your biggest challenges with an aging parent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 36 million falls reported each year by Americans over the age of 65. Plus, one in every five falls results in injury, on average.

A stair lift can cost around $3,000 or more depending on the model and its capabilities. Plus, labor costs for installation can take that cost even higher.

That being said, the investment is a sure way to reduce the chances of a costly —and painful — hospital visit if your home has stairs in it. For stairs located outside of the home, low-tech and more economically priced ramps are available.

Making stairs less slippery

treads on stairs vertical

Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

A great way to prevent slips on the stairs? Installing peel-and-stick treads.

That’s what we did on our hardwood stairs going upstairs. While we don’t walk around in stocking feet anymore — after our neighbor across the street slipped in her socks on the stairs, fell and broke her back — the treads provide a little extra grip.

We got these peel-and-stick treads for wood stairs on Amazon and they were super easy to install. In fact, when we had extras left over, we gave them to an aging cousin. She was looking to age-proof the stairs in their home.

Preventing trips and falls

cotton rag area rug is a tripping hazard

Photo credit: Canva Pro.

Speaking of falling down stairs, there is another way that many aging people trip and fall in the home. And that’s with throw rugs or area rugs that aren’t secure.

For example, cloth rag rugs are pretty, but they’re also pretty dangerous. If you like the look of area rugs, consider getting a non-slip mat under them.

Also, make sure that the carpet pile is as flat as possible. Basically, you don’t want a “lip” on the rug where someone can catch their foot and fall.

Other mobility solutions when you live with an aging parent

Mature hands holding handrail for safety.

Toa55 // Shutterstock

If you’re planning on having an aging parent live with you, you may want to consider installing the following as well:

  • Grab bars. Position them in front of armchairs and couches to make stand up easier.
  • Grab handles can also be installed elsewhere, like in bathrooms.
  • Night lights and other lighting to help seniors navigate in the dark.
  • Widen door frames and smooth transitions between floors in parts of the house to better accommodate walkers and wheelchairs.

Accommodate memory loss

Memory loss occurs as we age. Everyone suffers from a little memory loss. However, this doesn’t always mean someone has dementia or the specific disease known as Alzheimer’s.

Helpful items like labels on containers and drawers — as well as large, easily accessible calendars for keeping on top of appointments — can help an older family member stay more independent. But it’s important to note that a typical and healthy level of memory loss shouldn’t cause disruptions in daily life, according to Mayo Clinic.

Signs that a loved one’s memory may be deteriorating further?

  • Asking repeated questions
  • Inexplicable mood swings
  • Regularly misplacing items around the house

If you are concerned about any of these signs, take your aging parent to a doctor for a diagnosis and further care.

Dementia can involve loss of balance, depth perception, and strength. This means it is even more important to install those aforementioned railings and whatnot. All of that will help them get around during daily activities.

Mayo Clinic recommends encouraging loved ones struggling with memory loss to stay physically and mentally active. You can help them do that through engaging activities like playing instruments, doing puzzles and reading.

Senior hands holding puzzle pieces.

EshanaPhoto // Shutterstock

Know where to go for financial help

Caregiving can be costly. Therefore, if you’re looking to have an aging parent live with you, you’ll want to know what resources are available for support.

A survey of more than 2,000 caregivers conducted by AARP in 2021 found that they spent 26% of their income, on average, to cover out-of-pocket expenses for the person they were caring for. The average out-of-pocket expense reported by those caregivers came to around $7,000 a year.

Section 1915(c) of the Social Security Act allowed states to create Home & Community-Based Services waiver programs. These can help those providing at-home care to get paid for their work. Those applying have to meet certain criteria, including proof that the care they provide would be less expensive than a professional service.

You can look up your state’s program, if one exists, on the national Medicaid website. Nearly every state operates one of these programs, and some have several, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Finally, the federal government runs something called the Elder Care Locator. This site is also useful for finding information about local legal aid and care organizations in your area. The tool allows users to search down to the city, or even the ZIP code.

If your elderly parent passes away and still owns a home, here’s what you need to know about inheriting a house.

Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Tim Bruns.

This story originally appeared on QMedic and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio Dom DiFurio contributed.

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