Transitioning a Relative into Your Home

You can do it, with sensitivity and patience

My aunt took in my grandmother for several years. My mother said it was "really hard on Sis." I am sure that is an understatement.

Still, what about Grandma, wasn't it hard on her too? She was leaving her home of many years, the home she had been in when Grandpa was alive. She lost contact with familiar faces, places and scenes.

If you're about to transition an elderly relative into your home, you're both facing big changes. What can you do to help the person you're caring for transition, and how can you help yourself? Remember The Golden Years Rule: It will be me someday, how will I want to be treated?

Interestingly, as I did my research I found that most sources concerned with the elderly and where they will live do not mention often, if at all, moving in with children or other relatives.

Elderly people who need to move into another's home experience many emotions. Depression, grief, insult, shame, anger and guilt are some of the possible feelings they may have. They have experienced a loss.

Imagine you are suddenly told you are going to steadily decline in ability and will need to rely on a family member to help you. You will not be able to live as you do now or where you are now. The thought alone makes one feel a bit sad.

You can help the transition in many ways. I begin with the most important one:

Positive thinking
I know; you hear it all the time. It really does help. If you are one to let little things get you down, you will need to really study these tips.

When you feel overwhelmed and "negative," it shows; the elderly person can see it and feel it. So, to help them you will need to help you. The art of it is to believe you can change the negative emotion. You can do this!

I give you the example of being stuck in a line. You feel stressed and impatient. Redirect the energy and decide you will not help the line move more quickly with anger, though it will move more pleasantly with patience. Say to yourself, "I am happy to be alive even though I am in this line."

If that doesn't work, continue with more mental work. Say to yourself, or out loud depending on your personality, " I am happy to be alive and able to be standing in this line. I am breathing, I am here and it is better than nowhere." Try to enjoy the things around you; smile at a tired mother. If you just don't feel it, "fake it til you make it"; if you pretend often enough, it just might become true.

As you practice and "fake" this technique you develop the habit of positive thinking. It becomes natural. I have been able to do so and it has helped me in many tense situations. This does not mean you will not show negative emotions, it means you will reserve them for bigger issues.

Build self-esteem
You will make all the difference in the world by providing opportunities for the elderly person to feel needed and important. Your loved one may be more aware of and concerned about his or her situation than he is showing. It is common for elderly to question their worth as they see themselves declining and losing ground. Needing assistance from you goes against his nature.

In most circumstances there is something the elderly can do to help you. Let them. You do not need to look far to find jobs.

  • Peeling potatoes; if peeling is too hard, washing them. They can sit at the table and you provide a bowl of water and brush.
  • Wiping the table
  • Brushing the pets
  • Dusting
  • Wiping the lawnmower off after you mow
  • Cooking

You can see it is easy to find jobs. The tasks vary depending on the ability or health of the person.

I knew an elderly lady who was blind and she was able to do dishes quite well. The person she lived with said she was very good at bed making too. This was a woman who had had her sight all of her life and had recently become blind due to diabetes.

Letting your family member help makes her feel as if she is contributing, not being a burden. Even so, you need to tell your elderly family member that it is not only what a person shares physically that adds to a family but emotionally as well.

Connection with former friends
Encourage and help arrange trips with or correspondence with friends.

The bottom line: What your loved one really needs

  • Control of his or her future. Do not take over--support.
  • Decision making power.
  • Familiar surroundings; you can decorate their room or other areas of your home with some of the items they had in their home.
  • To be useful and productive (see Self-esteem above). Several groups (the Red Cross, American Lung Association) use volunteers to address letters, call shut-ins, become a "grandparent" for latch key kids on phone programs.
  • Interests/hobbies. Introduce them to the Internet, there are some great sites for elderly with large fonts and tutorials just for them.
  • Privacy. A little goes a long way here. Call the room his room; allow input on how to arrange it and decorate it.
  • Positive feedback. For example: He opens the door for you as you come in from shopping (or you request help () " Gee, dad, I am glad you are here--I used to have such a difficult time getting the groceries in with my arms full."
  • Respect. Ask for advice; be willing to follow her advice or present choices you are willing to tolerate. For example: "Mother, which outfit do you think I should wear tonight? This one or this one?"
  • Communication. Do not assume because it has not come up that your parent or loved one is not full of concern about being in the way. Discuss that it will not always be easy on him or you, but that you love him. Do acknowledge that you realize this is hard on him and you know he must feel somewhat sad. This will lead into conversations or at least open the door for them later. Do not baby talk: they are adults.
  • Routine. Try to keep a routine and daily schedule in several areas of life.

Be sure to seek medical advice for prolonged or major depressive moods. Depression can kill. And above all, try to enjoy your time together.

Grow old along with me
the best is yet to be
the last of life for which the first was made.
--Robert Browning

Barbara Richardson lives on 13 acres in Indiana with her husband and three children, and a dog and cat. She loves fishing, cartooning, writing, animals, cooking, bread baking, and her family, not specifically in that order. Barbara says, "I am proud to be a stay at home and a wife. I take pride as well in living within my income and not being a slave to debt."