My son was just 6 years old when my 80-year-old mother-in-law moved in with us during her chemotherapy treatments.
Having lost her hair to chemo, she was bald as a cue ball and never opted for wearing a wig. One morning she came to the breakfast table au naturale. As soon as my son saw her he slammed down his fork and declared, "Great! Now I've lost my appetite!"
With an elderly relative living with you, it may feel like you are forever holding your breath waiting for the next shoe to drop. Learning to take things with a grain of salt and reading through the next few suggestions may help to make the transition just a little bit easier.
Communication is key
It is important to discuss expectations before and after an elderly relative moves in. Allow for frank discussions to occur and each family member to have a voice - including the elderly guest. Recognize that schedules, noise tolerances, and even mealtimes will likely change. Who will take turns driving Grandma to her doctor appointments? A "no noise" policy after a certain hour may need to be instituted with teens. Grandpa may not like all of the spices the family is used to. Opt for placing the seasonings on the table and allowing individual family members to season according to personal tastes. Problem solving often takes thinking outside of the box. Involving and listening to ideas from every family member can lead to a greater variety of solutions.
They need their space, and you need yours
Most likely your elderly relative will be moving from the privacy of his or her own home. Your family and the new household member may need to adjust to sharing a bathroom or even a bedroom if doubling up becomes necessary. Try to find a way for everyone to have some personal privacy. Take the family out for ice cream or a movie to give the elderly family member some time and space alone in the house for a while. Both parties can use a breather from time to time.
Expect an adjustment period
It may take up to a year and a half to weed out possible blow ups, antagonisms, and arguments. It will take a while for all the family members involved to iron out expectations, schedule changes, and adapting to differing personalities. Give yourself, your family, and your elderly relative time and patience to make these adjustments. There will need to be some give and take. Learn to pick your battles, bite your tongue, and try to lead the rest of the family members to do the same.
Be flexible and understanding
Having an elderly relative move in with you can provide a unique opportunity for service and a chance to create invaluable experiences and memories. Health issues vary as will their own desires of how involved they want to become with the rest of your family. Expect and respect that because of his or her age your elder may have somewhat inflexible ideas, thoughts, and patterns of living that are very different from what you or your family are used to. It is easier for the young to adapt to new environments; it may not be so easy for your elderly relative. Try to be flexible without feeling like you have to change every way your family does things.
Accentuate the positive
Caralee Curtis from Spring, Texas brought her mother to live with her eight years ago. At first it was difficult for everyone, especially the grandmother who had to adjust to a house full of teenagers with its accompanying noise as well as having to share a bathroom. Despite the many adjustments, Caralee admits that overall it has been a positive experience. "It's been good for [Grandma] to be at the children's different activities and to be available in general. I like that she's around family instead of by herself."
Go easy on yourself with this new, selfless adventure! Be patient with your elder and be patient with yourself. Rome wasn't built in a day and adjusting to your new living situation will take time. You are doing a wonderful thing. Don't feel like you have to tackle every aspect of this alone. Ask for help, use outside resources when possible, and don't be afraid to take a holiday every now and then. Take things one step at a time and try to enjoy the journey.