ADRIAN SAINZ,AP Real Estate Writer
From deciding where grandma will sleep to knowing her preferred bed time, turning a home into three-generation household takes plenty of planning and frank discussions that can be difficult.
Family psychologists, social workers and relocation specialists are seeing more seniors moving in with their grown children due to financial concerns. The recession has led to increasing job losses and shrinking savings accounts, forcing many seniors to change their retirement plans and consider moving in with their grown children temporarily, or permanently.
Multigenerational households made up 5.3 percent of all households last year, up from 4.8 percent in 2000, AARP reports.
In many cases, such a move is difficult and painful, in others it’s a relatively seamless transition. To make it as easy as possible, grown children and their parents, and often grandchildren as well, need to work out details of the transition.
“It’s an incredibly complicated situation,” says Marsha Frankel, a social worker with Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Boston.
Changes in a senior’s living arrangement — whether living independently or in an assisted living facility — can come suddenly, especially if eroded investments or job loss makes their current situation unaffordable. The unemployment rate for workers aged 55 and older hit 7 percent last month, almost double the rate a year ago, data released Thursday showed.
In fact, about one in 10 people aged 50 and older live either with their grandchildren or their parents, according an AARP survey of more than 1,000 respondents 18 and older released in March.
Sixteen percent of respondents 55 and over reported that moving with their family or a friend was necessary in the past six months. Among those 18 and over who say they are likely to make such a move, 34 percent cited a loss of income as a reason for the move, 19 percent cited a change in job status and 8 percent blamed home foreclosure.
When considering a move, seniors should honestly asses their relationship with their child and his or her spouse. A strained relationship could lead to conflict.
For many seniors, the last time they lived with their children was when they were teenagers whose lives needed direction and discipline, said Nancy Wesson, author of “Moving Your Aging Parents.” It’s the same for the adult child, who may have resented being told what to do all the time and rebelled against mom or dad as a teen.
“A lot of those dynamics are hiding in wait” and surface when the senior parent moves in, Wesson says.
But the relationship has now changed — both parties are adults and will need to adjust their approach to a more patient, communicative partnership.
If a senior decides to make the move, the first step is obvious but absolutely necessary: Have a family conference to discuss how everyone’s life is going to change. AARP suggests the household should also have regular conferences, perhaps once a week after dinner or on a weekend afternoon, to discuss the next week’s schedule.
Families can set up a three-month trial period and should have a backup plan in case the move just does not work.
“The key issue is everybody communicating and things being spelled out in advance,” Frankel says.
A key point of discussion is realizing how much care the senior requires in their daily lives, and how the younger family members are going to help.
It’s important for the senior to retain some control of their lives to keep from feeling isolated. A grown child should refrain from taking over every little aspect of the parent’s life and micromanaging their parents to the point of frustration.
“That’s offensive and they don’t appreciate it,” said Wesson, a senior relocation specialist. “It hurts their feelings. Involve them as much in the process as they are willing to handle.”
Preparing the home for the move is a big step. Homeowners should know if the house can accommodate someone who has trouble climbing stairs. Clutter should be removed from walking areas, and lighting can be improved to deal with any vision loss by the senior.
A grandchild who is being displaced from their usual bedroom should know ahead of time. Bed times might have to be adjusted. Times for having friends over should be established in advance.
The living space in the home should accommodate for Dad’s Favorite Chair, and everyone should have their own designated places, whether it’s to read or watch TV or do homework, AARP suggests.
Homeowners should review their insurance documents or make sure the senior is added to coverage in case there’s a household injury.
Also, the entire household should talk about finances. Seniors with a job, leftover savings or monthly Social Security checks can contribute some money for groceries, utilities or even the mortgage.
However, money doesn’t have to change hands. A more active senior could drive the grandkids to school, baby-sit twice a week or do the grocery shopping. Such routines provide consistency and help life go more smoothly.
But, as the senior gets older, he or she may not be able to drive any more and can’t help out in the household anymore. Adult children and their parents should look down the road and determine what the next step should be if the level of required care becomes too time-consuming.
“People often just think in the moment, that they’re in a financial crunch,” Frankel says. “What happens when mom has been putting her money into the household and suddenly needs more care? Those are the kinds of things that really get to be looked at and create all kinds of problems.”
These and other issues can be obstacles, but a situation in which a senior moves in with their children and grandchildren also can be a blessing: It can bring families closer together.
Multigenerational households should take advantage and try to eat meals together, look at family photos, and plan outings in which everyone participates. A grandmother’s or grandfather’s experience can be invaluable to a younger person who is willing to listen.
“It brings cross generational closeness that you can’t achieve when you are not living together,” said Elinor Ginzler, AARP’s housing expert.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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