Before Mom or Dad Moves In...
Careful planning and a frank family meeting are musts for making "live with us" livable

When Philip Goeken's grandfather died two years ago, he worried that his grandmother wouldn't like living alone. So his wife invited her to move in with them. ''My parents had taken care of their parents and grandparents, so for me, that's just what families do,'' explains Melody Campbell-Goeken, a public relations executive in San Antonio. ''Great Grandma Mimi,'' 73, has been living with the couple and their son, now 4, ever since.

At a time when independent living options for the elderly are greater than ever, multigenerational households such as the Goekens' may seem anachronistic. But according to the Census Bureau, 17% of women and 7% of men over age 65 live with relatives other than a spouse.

Although that's a far cry from 50 years ago, when such households were the norm, the figure has remained steady for the past decade, and some gerontologists think it will increase as the population ages and housing costs soar.

Finances, of course, are a prime consideration. If you've got the space, it doesn't cost much to have Grandpa or Aunt Rosie move in, and it's considerably cheaper than an assisted-living facility or a nursing home. But the emotional and logistical impact are just as crucial. Often, the move comes during a crisis, without full consideration of the ramifications. ''This isn't a decision anyone should make impulsively or out of a feeling of guilt,'' says Neville Strumpf, a registered nurse who specializes in gerontology at the University of Pennsylvania. Nor should an elderly person be pushed into giving up his or her independence. ''Never assume this is even an option Mom or Dad wants to consider,'' Stumpf warns.

When thinking of sharing your home with an aging relative, look closely at the layout. A suite with its own entrance is optimal, but an extra bedroom can suffice. You may want to think twice about forcing a child to double up with a sibling or the family to share a single bathroom. Both arrangements can lead to friction. In terms of safety, an architect or occupational therapist can assess your living quarters and suggest modifications to make it more accessible to an elderly resident. A special staircase railing or shower seat can be easily installed at fairly low cost.

If you go ahead, the family should work out the logistics in a formal meeting. An outside facilitator, such as a social worker or a geriatric care manager, can help bring up difficult issues and keep emotions from getting in the way. It's important to discuss such details as diet and meal times, transportation, and financial arrangements. ''Even if you have plenty of resources, it's best to let the older person contribute in some way,'' advises Brenda Wilson, an elder-care specialist at the University of Pennsylvania.

A frank discussion about the future is also critical. While Dad may be able and active when he moves in, his health and mobility will no doubt decline in the years ahead. ''You need to be upfront about how long you'll be able to accommodate the older person in your home,'' says Lois Escobar, a family consultant at Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco. Be aware that a home health aide costs $17 to $20 an hour and is covered only by long-term-care insurance, not by health policies or Medicare. If the time comes to move your relative to a nursing home, it will be easier if you've done some advance planning.

For all its challenges, multigenerational living has distinct advantages. Research shows that older people who live with grandchildren are healthier and less depressed. Kids, too, benefit from the care and attention of older relatives, particularly in busy families where both parents work. Adding a new member to the household entails a big adjustment. But the more thoroughly you plan, the easier the transition will be.


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