Not long ago a woman came up to me after I spoke at a caregiving event and told me it made her feel guilty to listen to me talk about my eight years caring for my parents in my home.
“I can’t take care of my dad in my home like you did,” she said.
“Not everyone can,” I responded. “And not everyone should. For a lot of reasons.”
So how do you assess whether or not a loved one should move into your house, rather than into a care facility or remaining in their own home with assistance or one of a variety of other possibilities? I strongly encourage people to sit down and assess their family make-up, their support system, their finances, their emotional make-up, and other important elements:
Physical space: Is your home large enough to provide privacy for all family members if your parent moves in? Would family members have to share bedrooms or bathrooms, and would medical concerns complicate those matters? Are family members resentful or reluctant about giving up what was previously “personal space”?
Relationships: Do family members living at home get along with the family member moving in? Is the family member moving in anxious or irritable? Depressed? Easily frustrated? In need of a peaceful environment? Are your children abe to welcome an elderly grandparent in spite of the lifestyle limitations it may cause? Are you? Is your spouse? Do you foresee boundary issues or still feel like a child in the presence of your parent? Have you resolved past conflict with your parent?
Adaptability: Will family members willingly make adjustments? Will your loved one willingly make adjustments? Is your parent comfortable in social environments, and is your home a social place? Does your loved one need help bathing, dressing, with meals, etc.? Are your lifestyle and values compatible with your loved one’s?
Medical and Health Concerns: Does your loved one have a form of dementia that will impact family dynamics? Will your parent be safe in your home (locks, stove and oven, falls, etc.)? Does your house have grab-bars by the toilet, shower, or bathtub? Does your loved one still drive? If not, how will you manage appointments and/or their social schedule? Has your loved one been diagnosed with a disease that impact daily living, and is the disease degenerative? Is your loved one capable of indepndent hygiene and feeding themself? Do you feel competent managing their medical care and medications? Will that responsibility be shared among family members?
Employment Concerns: Will your family members be able to maintain their work schedules and still take care of your loved one’s physical, emotional, and social needs? Does your workplace have a flextime policy? Can you work at home?
Your Health Concerns: Are primary caregivers health and able to provide necessary care now and in the foreseeable future? Do you or other family members have special health concerns? What is your plan for maintaining physical, emotional, and spiritual balance while caregiving? What are your support and respite resources?
Finances: Does your parent make sound financial decisions on their own? What is the plan for transioning decision-making as their health deteriorates? Is your parent capable of paying for their own needs and contributing to household expenses?
Resources: What family members are available to assist you, both locally and more distant? What kind of assistance are they willing to contribute? What kinds of services are available in your area to assist you in putting together a comprehensive plan (Day care? Respite? Meals on Wheels? Hospice? Paid in-home assistance?)?
The list above is just a starting point for discussion. Ultimately, every family or individual must make decisions most appropriate for their situation. But caregiving is never defined by geography. During the months my parents were in assisted living, my brother and I and our spouses were still caregivers, making certain my parents were receiving the best possible care we could provide. At that moment in time, the best possible care could not be in our homes.
The most important thing is to love our families with all our heart, soul, and mind. And we are never promised that walking out that love will always be easy.