Taking care of an elderly parent in your home is a huge commitment. It can strengthen family bonds and improve caregiving logistics, but it can also cause friction.
Read one couple’s family caregiving story, discover different ways to adjust to caring for aging parents, and learn expert advice about how to move forward when living with elderly parents isn’t working out.
Lynette and Marty Whiteman were getting used to losing sleep.
After Lynette’s aging mother Mildred moved into their New Jersey home from her retirement community, she regularly woke the couple, asking for help at odd hours. To Mildred, the requests were urgent — but Marty didn’t see changing light bulbs or resetting microwave clocks as tasks to crawl out of bed for.
Mildred’s increasing care needs and knocks on the couple’s door at midnight were taking a toll on their marriage. Tension over caregiving roles steadily increased, while their privacy decreased. The Whitemans, like many adults who choose to care for aging parents, thought having Mildred nearby would keep her safe, and would prevent them from having to travel back and forth between their home and hers.
“It was a great idea in concept,” says Lynette. “But we didn’t know what we were getting into.”
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“Moving someone into your home is an enormous commitment,” says Jennifer FitzPatrick, a gerontology professor and author of “Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for Your Loved One.”
Many families believe that living with elderly parents will simplify caregiving. They believe it may be less expensive than senior living and easier than visiting an aging relative in their own home. But sometimes these expectations don’t fit the reality of being a family caregiver, and the arrangement doesn’t always work out long term.
It was a great idea in concept. But we didn’t know what we were getting into.Lynette Whiteman, former family caregiver
If you’re taking care of an elderly parent in your home and feeling strained, ask yourself the following questions:
If you’re caring for a loved one who doesn’t live with you, check out this resource to see if you’re ready for your elderly parent to move in.
Caring for Mildred at home wasn’t urgent, but it seemed like a good idea to Lynette. Her mom would receive regular social interaction, and they could form a closer relationship together.
Before moving in with her daughter, Mildred had grown depressed and isolated. Her late husband — Lynette’s father — had been outgoing, and he kept the couple engaged in community life and social events. Without him around, Lynette was worried. What if Mildred became too lonely? What if she fell while she was alone?
“We figured she’d have somebody if something happened in the middle of the night, and we could help her with her bills,” says Lynette. So, they built a small, attached apartment with a private kitchen and bathroom using some of Mildred’s savings. But the adjustment was more difficult than expected
At first, Marty and Lynette had trouble accepting the constant late-night interruptions and nightly dinners at home. It seemed like they’d put their lives — and their marriage — on hold to care for Mildred. However, the couple’s situation improved after they agreed to work as a team, make adjustments, and follow caregiver advice such as:
Like Lynette and Marty, it’s possible to turn a difficult situation with an aging parent into a successful living arrangement. However, it doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes, the caregiving burden becomes too much, or the aging relative’s health and happiness are at risk.
“If living with elderly parents isn’t working out, chances are they feel the same way,” says FitzPatrick, who recommends having an honest talk with your aging loved one.
Claire Samuels is a content writer at A Place for Mom. She worked with senior living communities throughout the Midwest before pivoting to writing. She’s passionate about sharing ways of living well at any age.