Should You Live With Your Elderly Parents?

When John Hubbard left Alabama to return to live with his mother in Beaufort, SC, in 2002, he couldn’t foresee how much his life would change. The two had a good relationship and Hubbard was happy to be back in his hometown.

But when his mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 2 years later and he became the primary caregiver, Hubbard had to give up his freedom, his old career and a personal schedule. He even had to break off his own marriage engagement in another state.

Yet he wouldn’t do anything differently. “It wasn’t easy, I promise you,” he says. “You have to put your life on hold.” Hubbard quit drinking alcohol and smoking during this period, which lasted for 13 years. “You have to put the toys away. You have to become an adult. I actually grew up.

Be realistic about your roles

Think seriously and honestly about family dynamics before you take such a big step, advises Christina Irving, a licensed clinical social worker who is the Director of Client Services for the Family Caregiver Alliance at the National Center on Caregiving in San Francisco. “If you had a history filled with really difficult communication or abuse as a child, these are times when you might not want to take on the role of caregiver. It can be done, but it comes with a whole host of emotional challenges to overcome. “

You also need to think about your own well-being. For example, if you have your own health, mental health, or addiction issues, “you have to ask yourself if the added stress of caregiving is worth it. … Can I also help support this [other] the person? ”Irving said.

Sometimes the things we don’t like about our parents or bother us the most are the behaviors and attitudes they’ve always had, notes Steven Zarit, PhD, professor and head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. at Penn State University. in University Park, PA. “Now that they’re old, they’re not going to be the parents we always wanted to have. They won’t change. We have to be able to accept them as they are. “


Think about space

This may be the first time you need to think about practical things about your parents. Who will pay the expenses? Will each person have their own space at home? Who is in charge of cooking and cleaning? “If you can agree on these issues, it’s a start to making a shared household work,” says Irving.

Before moving, assess the living space at hand. “Is the house really safe and accessible, given what you think someone might need based on their health? Do you have a space that allows for confidentiality? “

Also consider your own needs. If you don’t have an extra bedroom to work in, can you, for example, convert the dining room into a sleeping space? What other needs do you have? Are you always going to be able to give extra support to your parents?

Hubbard says there wasn’t much room in his mother’s house: “We did our best. She had two rooms to enter. She would sit on her couch and watch TV until I got home from work. That’s all we could do.

Have a backup

Be sure to take breaks if caregiving comes into play. Siblings or other relatives and family friends can be helpful, Zarit says. Develop a schedule. Ask others to take on tasks, such as taking your parents to dinner once a week.

Hubbard’s two sisters and brother live nearby, so although Hubbard has a homework assignment, the four shared their support. For example, her two sisters took care of “girls’ affairs” in their mother’s care, such as bathing and grooming.

What helped Hubbard through the toughest times were his friendships. “Another thing that was a saving grace was that we were reaching our 30e high school reunion, ”he says. Planning and having the chance to hang out with buddies he grew up with was key to keeping morale up.

Seek community support

If you don’t have siblings or parents who can step in to help, you still need to provide support at home, says Zarit. “It can help you when you can’t leave a parent alone.” He suggests that you seek out agencies that offer home care or adult day service programs, which provide activities and social time for seniors.


There could be a catch. “The obstacle you have to overcome, however, is to get your parents to agree to get help,” Zarit says. “The adult day service programs I have worked with often have ways of helping people feel comfortable and welcome in the program.”

If things start to get more difficult to deal with at home, you may also want to bring in a mental health professional who can see you and your parents together. “A neutral person can lower the temperature and adjust the differences,” says Zarit. “A professional can help you decide if continuing to live together is viable or if your parent needs to live elsewhere.”

Prepare for change

Living with your parents may not be the complete or final solution, Irving notes.

“For the last month or so, I couldn’t watch her,” says Hubbard. “It got to the point where she was going to go, and there was nothing more I could do. She went to live with one of my sisters.

Despite the extreme difficulties at times, “it was the best,” he says. “I got to know my mother again. We just had so many conversations. We probably would never have had these conversations.

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John Hubbard, Beaufort, SC.

Steven Zarit, PhD, Emeritus Emeritus Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Penn State University, University Park, PA.

Christina Irving, Certified Clinical Social Worker; Director of Client Services, Family Caregiver Alliance, National Center on Caregiving, San Francisco.

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