Care for Caregivers
Emmanuel Casenas of Royal Oak admits it: He’s fried. A single dad to two boys ages 3 and 11, Emmanuel hustles from morning day care drop-offs to twilight soccer practices – with a demanding sales job filling the hours in between. Like most parents, Emmanuel devotes extraordinary energy to his kids. But a couple of years ago, his older sister, who had been their mother’s primary caretaker, died. Now, his 79-year-old mother, Laura, lives with him.
Old enough to have kids and young enough to have a living parent, Emmanuel personifies the sandwich generation – caretakers of the generations above and below them. While many families pay for assisted living services or home-care nurses, Emmanuel joined those who bring their parents into their homes instead.
“My mother has health issues in terms of her heart,” Emmanuel explains. “She can’t do as much as she used to do.”
Laura contends with atrial fibrillation and mobility issues, so living alone didn’t seem like a safe option to her or to Emmanuel. Even so, Laura still spends a chunk of the day by herself, which weighs on Emmanuel.
“While I’m at work, she needs to find other seniors to spend time with – bingo, church, some kind of social outlet,” he says. “But we have economic reasons not to send her to an assisted living facility or to bring someone into our home. Financially, that would be difficult.”
And there’s something else. “I’m part Filipino,” Emmanuel says. "It’s my culture. We take care of our elders.”
All in the family
This situation is familiar to Lynn Breuer, the 24/7 team leader and marketing manager at ElderCare Solutions of Michigan. Every day, Breuer works with families like Emmanuel’s.
“There are many reasons why a family might choose to have an aging parent move in with them rather than elect for a facility or private home care,” she explains. “Many people simply believe a stranger could never care for a loved one the way family can.”
However, moving a parent into your home can present physical and emotional challenges. The house may even need to be adapted to meet the new arrival’s limitations. “But there’s also the question of how to balance the needs of your parent and your children,” Breuer points out.
On top of the extra responsibility, the added costs can be significant. Breuer also notes the psychological burden.
“The dynamics between the parent and adult child are critical to making it work well, especially when a third generation is in the house,” she says.
While it’s not the case for the Casenas household, sometimes the older parent takes an active role in child rearing, which adds another level of complexity to the mix. For example, will the older adult undermine dad’s or mom’s parenting decisions at the dinner table?
Still, Breuer says, there are benefits to this kind of life change – and not just for elderly parents. Having everyone in one house can be convenient. For example, she says “It takes time to drive across town to check that a parent is taking her meds.”
More meaningfully, having three generations of loving family living under one roof provides something irreplaceable. “It can be an incredibly enriching experience,” Breuer adds, “to have grandparents be there for grandchildren, instilling the value of how we take care of each other.”
Emmanuel agrees. “Being around her grandkids, who love her so much, brings a smile to mom’s face and keeps her young.”
Meeting the challenges
Having your parent live with you can be a challenge. Breuer has practical advice to help handle conflicts that might arise.
- Allow for privacy. Sharing your home can compromise your sense of boundaries, so safeguard privacy – your own and your parent’s. Your parent may be feeling the loss of independence. Some home modifications, if feasible, can help enhance everyone’s sense of autonomy.
- Cooperate. The adult caretaker is sacrificing time and money, but when possible, the aging parent – or other siblings – should contribute. “If there are several adult children and mom moves in with one of them, the other siblings may be able to subsidize some of her expenses,” Breuer says. “And if someone can’t contribute financially, there are other ways to help – housekeeping, meal prep, running errands.”
- Seek support. Look for caretaker support groups in your area. “There are multiple resources available through local agencies on aging and a whole host of community-based services as well,” Breuer says. “A geriatric care manager can help find resources and serve as a source of support.”
Caretaker burnout is a real risk. “Schedule time for activities that replenish your resources, like getting together with friends or taking a meditation class,” Breuer says. “It’s good advice for almost anyone but critical for someone in this situation.”