What to look for when determining the needs of elderly parents

When it comes to multigenerations sharing a family home, we often think of adult children moving back in with Mom and Dad.

But there’s a new reality. According to a Pew Research Center survey published on the AARP website, fewer young adults are returning home.

But before renting out their rooms or downsizing, empty nesters need to consider this: The number of older parents moving in with their adult children has doubled in the last two decades. Today, 14 percent of parents are living in an adult child's home, up from 7 percent in 1995.

This household consolidation happens for a variety of reasons but it’s usually when elderly parents can no longer adequately care for themselves.

There are signs it’s time to discuss alternative living arrangements, says Leslie Riley, senior living administrator at Hartsfield Village, a continuing care retirement community in Munster.

“Are you having to help your mom or dad manage the housework, lawn work and general maintenance?” she says, listing questions to ask when determining whether it’s time to make the move. “Have they become forgetful to the point of becoming a safety issue? Has driving become a concern? Are you or maybe a neighbor checking on them to make sure they are eating? Are they still socially active or are they spending the majority of time alone?”

Other considerations include determining whether a parent is capable of taking his or her medications as prescribed as well as their ability to perform daily living skills such as cooking and bathing and such safety issues as remembering to turn off the stove, navigating stairs and locking doors.

Jill Barr, assisted living counselor at St. Anthony Village in Crown Point, says it’s important to raise the issue of moving, whether it’s into an adult child’s home or an assisted living facility, before a loved one needs care or assistance.

“That way you can get a better idea of what they want without them questioning your motivation,” she says. “The transition can be made easier with good communication and is always better before a decision is forced by illness or circumstance. It is one of the more difficult things to discuss with someone you care about, but not talking about it does not make the problem or your concerns go away. Timing is important. If you can refer to someone that you or they know who did not have the foresight to plan ahead, it can be a good conversation starter.”

Another important factor is to help a parent transition well before the move, says Barr.

“Pack wisely, don’t bring everything,” she says. “Change can be challenging. It takes time to transition to a new life and living situation. I think preparation, a positive attitude, a supportive network of family and friends, patience and understanding can prepare everyone for a smooth transition.”

There’s another side of the equation. Adult children are often called the “sandwich generation” because they are caring for their children as well as their parents. So it’s important to discuss the possibility of a grandparent coming to live with the family. Getting their support makes the transition easier for everyone.

All the onus of care and socialization shouldn’t be on adult children only.

“Adult day programs are a wonderful option for adults to go during the day for social interaction, or if they need some supervision,” says Barr. “It is always good idea to visit several different adult days to see which one will be the best fit for your loved one.”