Although it is common for families to bring older adults into their homes, temporarily and long-term, it’s a major lifestyle change for both existing household members and the newcomer.
To help the transition go smoothly and to create a space where everyone feels safe, comfortable and content, you must do some work ahead of time. Preparing mentally, emotionally, and logistically for the new arrangement ensures it is a positive experience for everyone involved.
Moving Elderly Parents into Your Home
Living with elderly parents provides a host of positive benefits, such as fostering a higher quality of life for your loved one and decreasing their housing and other daily expenses. Meanwhile, the camaraderie and connection are emotionally fulfilling.
However, that outcome is not a given. If you are considering the idea of having an aging parent move into your home in New Jersey, here are a few suggestions for preparing your house, and everyone in it, for the new arrangement:
1. Discuss Expectations
Multigenerational living can cultivate a unique bonding experience with your loved one, but first, it’s important to have a candid conversation about everyone’s expectations and concerns. Some topics to cover include the ways you will give and get privacy; what parts of the house are accessible to what household members; sleeping arrangements; schedules and quiet hours; household chores; personal habits that affect others, such as smoking; and guidelines for inviting guests over.
Is your parent contributing to household expenses or paying a small percentage of the mortgage for use of your in-law suite? If so, draft a simple agreement that gives you both a reference point in case of future disputes or questions. Is the parent living with you wanting to help with childcare and on what basis? You shouldn’t expect to use them for free babysitting every day unless that’s something they’ve offered and are expecting. The more transparency and honesty you establish upfront, the more likely this living arrangement will prove positive for you and your family, as well as your aging loved one. While it may feel a bit formal and unnecessary, it will prevent future heartache over unmet expectations from both sides of the table.
2. Encourage Independence and Socialization
You want your loved one to be independent and mobile, and you don’t want them to feel lonely or isolated after leaving their previous home and neighborhood. Becoming isolated can have serious negative consequences for seniors, and in fact, Medicare Advantage calls senior isolation, “America’s quietest health risk.” Watch for signs they are struggling, such as negative self-talk, poor sleep patterns, sluggishness, or substance abuse. To help combat the loneliness and stress that isolation brings, invite them into your family time, such as game nights, meals, or weekend outings.
Also, encourage your loved one to get out and about, even if it’s only occasionally. Activities like volunteering at a local organization or joining a senior fitness program can boost quality of life in important ways, not only helping your loved one avoid isolation, but also encouraging mobility and providing mental and emotional stimulation. Let them know they are also welcome to have their friends and former neighbors come by for a visit as well.
3. Make it Easy to Come and Go
For older adults to come and go comfortably, you should examine your home’s entryways. Even if your loved one currently has no mobility concerns, at least one entryway should be threshold-free and step-free so it is compatible with mobility assistance devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. Consider installing a wheelchair ramp or purchasing a portable one. There is a surprising variety of ramps to meet virtually any situation. Even if your senior never needs assistive equipment, carrying a bag of groceries to the house or managing in wet, slippery conditions is easier with a well-designed ramp.
Additionally, make sure you have a designated spot where they can park their car that provides easy access to your home. Other household members should avoid parking in the spot. If your parent no longer has their own car, discuss options for transportation, including how much time you can commit to taking them to run errands, visit the senior center, or go to various doctor appointments. Help them figure out the local bus schedule for Morris, Essex, or Union county if that’s a convenient mode of transportation as well.
4. Upgrade Your Home
Along with age comes reduced strength, flexibility, and balance, and many seniors also have chronic health issues. This combination often puts seniors at a higher risk for serious falls. A couple considerations for the house as a whole can improve safety for older adults.
Examine the lighting situation throughout the living area, and brighten dim spaces to make it easier to see objects and judge depth. Add nightlights to improve nighttime navigation, and consider some task lighting in areas where she’ll be working. Bear in mind stairs are less than ideal, but if your loved one must use them, make them as safe as possible. Remove any rugs on the stairs or landing areas, and ensure they are well-lit and have sturdy railings on each side of the stairwell.
Most older adults benefit from specific room modifications as well. The primary place to look is the bathroom your senior will use. The combination of slick conditions and changing positions can be hazardous to older adults, so consider some simple alterations to make the space more accessible. For instance, a comfort-height toilet is an important and easy modification. Replacing the faucet with a lever-style handle design during your bathroom remodel makes it easier for older hands to use the sink. Installing grab bars in the shower and tub area helps with transitioning and reduces the risk of falls, while some simple rubber shower mats improve traction.
5. Consider an In-Law Suite
The best option for creating a safe, private living arrangement for your older parent is to add an in-law suite or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) that is specifically designed for them. They may still use the main house on occasion, but they have a place to call their own and it contains everything they need, including a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and private entrance. They can decorate it how they want and have friends over without disturbing the rest of the house—and vice versa.
You can build the ADU as a separate structure on your property if you have the space. If you do so, make sure there is a safe, ADA-accessible pathway from the unit to your main dwelling such as a one-level home or a walk-out basement with an acceptable pathway to your home. Other common solutions include building an adjoined in-law suite off your house or converting a garage into a senior-friendly apartment. Each type of project has a different cost and timeline for completion, so it’s important to start evaluating options as soon as you’ve confirmed your parent will be living with you.
Preparing Your New Jersey Home for an Aging Loved One
Multigenerational living provides your older parent an opportunity for independent living within a safe, supportive environment. To help create a situation that works for both of you, your home may need some modifications. If you’re planning to remodel your New Jersey residence to include senior-friendly upgrades or you want to build an in-law suite, our team at JMC Home Improvement Specialists can help. We serve homeowners throughout Morris, Union, and Essex counties with aging-in-place remodeling services that create an environment where seniors are safe and comfortable during their golden years.