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One roof, three generations

A growing assisted care alternative: parents move in with a child's family.

Kristina Krausse of Downingtown, PA has noticed the trend of adults taking their elderly parents into their homes while still raising school-aged children. “I see this more and more,” she says. She became part of the trend when her parents, ages 71 and 80, joined her household, which includes three children younger than age 5.

Her parents moved in when the physical burden of maintaining their own home became too much. “We would really rather not put them in a home,” Krausse says.

This living arrangement creates what’s often called the “sandwich generation,” a segment of the population caring for their parents and their children at the same time. According to 2010 census data, there were 5.1 million multi-generation U.S. households, up from 3.9 million in 2000.

Cost considerations

“For many families, it is a proactive choice to live this way, but increasingly, in a bad economy, there is a consolidation of resources,” says Media, PA psychologist Samuel Romirowsky, PhD.

Assisted living can cost $60,000 a year or more, depending on an elderly parent’s or couple’s needs. In-home caregiving options can cost less, says Cindy Furman, a care specialist at Gloucester County (NJ) Senior Services. Furman has seen a trend in hiring in-home health aides. This approach is not cheap, she concedes, but it can be less costly  than assisted living. And many elderly adults need only part-time assistance.

 “If you have financial resources, in-home caregiving can be more manageable,” says Furman. Some state programs reimburse or compensate caregivers. You can find your local aging office at N4a.org to learn what assistance may be available.  “We help people navigate the system for state programs they may be eligible for,” says Furman.

Household rules

To be successful in a multi-generational living arrangement, the middle generation needs to be in charge, says Dr. Romirowsky. “There has to be real clarity that ‘this is my house, these are my rules, these are my children,’” he says. “The recipe for success also includes willingness to delegate certain jobs to other members of the household.” Grandparents and teenagers alike can help out with household tasks.

 “You need to set ground rules to let others know that mom can’t do it all,” concurs Mary Mullen, director of the Family Caregiver Support Program at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging. Make a list of necessary daily tasks and then tap into whatever support system you can build, she advises. This may include hiring an in-home helper, utilizing a senior day center, arranging transportation to senior appointments and drawing upon those who offer to help.

Cynthia Chestnut, PhD, a couples and family therapist practicing in Middletown, DE, advises setting up a daily schedule for your family. This may include doctor’s appointments and daily medications for seniors, and extra- curricular activities and household chores for the kids. 

“When you have good structure in place, you can breathe better, because you know what’s going to happen from one minute to the next,” says Dr. Chestnut. Post the schedule so caregivers can help out with it too.

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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