What is Shared Living? Would It Work for You?

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three women and a man outside drinking lemonade

You know it’s time. Your aging mom or dad has had a few falling episodes, sounds confused about their medications, is becoming more isolated—or there are other red flags. You worry they’re no longer safe living alone. So, even though most older people prefer to stay put, if you’re like a lot of children of aging adults, you propose the next best thing: have Mom or Dad move in with you. It’s an arrangement sometimes referred to as “shared living.”

It’s tough to know for sure just how many older adults are living with family, but a Pew Research Center survey estimates that almost 79 million adults in the United States reside in a shared living situation. In other words, nearly one in three.

So you wouldn’t be alone by any stretch. However, if you’re thinking about inviting a loved one to live with you, it’s worthwhile to pause and consider what that might really look like so you can decide whether it’s right for you, your parent and your family. There are five key questions to ask yourself.

  1. Will they be any safer in a shared living situation with us?

Safety is usually a leading reason families opt to consolidate homes. But will an older adult really be any safer living in yours? While it may be more convenient for you, which is an important factor to consider, it’s important to honest about any potential safety risks. Does your house present hazards that might pose challenges for someone with mobility issues?

For example, are the doorways wide enough to accommodate a walker? Is there a stand-alone shower in the house? Will Mom or Dad need to navigate stairs throughout the day? True, you can hire a home remodeler who specializes in “aging in place” renovations, but they often come with a high price tag.

  1. Will your home isolate your loved one from others?

When a parent is on their own, sometimes for the first time in their life, they may feel lonely and isolated. This is especially true for older adults who are reluctant drivers or who’ve hung up their car keys for good. The health risks of isolation are serious and range from depression to early mortality. So it’s an important issue to address.

It may seem like moving them in with your family solves the problem—but will it really? Families tend to be busy, with a lot of coming and going. Will schedules and work responsibilities mean Mom will be alone much of the time? Are there other older adults nearby to socialize with? What happens when you can’t be there? Is there another family member or friend who would be available? All of this can be addressed, but it requires planning.

  1. Are other members of the household in agreement to a shared living environment?

For a worried, worn out adult child, moving a parent in may seem like an ideal solution. It can save you time and energy running back and forth from their house to yours. That can be a big help when you are a family caregiver. But it’s important to take everyone’s feelings into account. Are other members of your family open to the arrangement? Is your spouse or partner’s relationship with your parent healthy enough to survive a shared living situation?

How about your siblings? Will they pitch in to help with caregiving tasks so your own family can take needed breaks? While any big change requires a period of adjustment, you don’t want to risk inter-family squabbles along the way that harden into permanent rifts.

  1. How much privacy will you have to give up when considering shared living with a parent?

Unless your home has a separate in-law suite or second master suite, privacy may be hard to come by when an aging parent moves in. A tight living space can result in stress for everyone, pleasing no one. Not only can the loss of privacy prove tough for another adult used to having their own space, it can for couples and grandchildren as well.

Here’s a smart move for making the most of limited space: Before you invite your parent to move in, do a careful walk-through of your home. Can you rearrange rooms to give everyone their own private space? And separate your parent’s bedroom from yours?

  1. Is this a short- or long-term shared living solution?

When an aging parent or other family member is recovering from illness, injury or surgery, having them stay with you while they recover might make sense. However, if they require additional care beyond what you can provide, a respite or transitional stay in a local senior living community, where professional support is available, might be the better option. Tip: Ask if the community has in-house rehab services, which may be covered by Medicare and can help maximize recovery.

Likewise, if one of your parents has passed away and the other is grieving, a short-term stay in your home can be a wonderful way for the entire family to lend support. Long-term, however, especially if you and your kids are coming and going a lot, your surviving parent’s loneliness may be compounded.

An independent senior living or assisted living community may be a better option. In addition to providing a safe environment with well-balanced meals, these communities offer 24/7 assistance with personal care and—most important for your loved one’s emotional wellbeing—a wide range of social activities to enjoy with people their own age, many of whom have probably been through similar life changes.

Talking it over? Here’s help

If you’ve answered the five questions above and are considering senior living, check out our new ebook, Making the Move to Senior Living: What You Need to Know. It covers all the ins and outs, such as why your parent may be hesitant, how to get them to see the positives, how to prepare for a smooth transition and how to be sure a move to senior living is the smartest move you’ve ever made. It’s loaded with expert tips—download it today.

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