“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” Ephesians 6: 1-3
Age is one of the great unifiers of life. We are born, we live, we get old and much as we dislike the idea, we all die. But what we do with that time is what matters. Your parents lived a rich, fulfilling life, they instilled you with all the qualities that a right-thinking, morally upstanding, open-minded and gracious person could be expected to have. In turn, you have lived a life of quality, rather than quantity, leaving a favorable impact wherever you went. You are successful, you have a lovely home, and a family who is tightly knit (and only sometimes acrimonious, usually around the holidays, or when Uncle Joe or Aunt Jane has hit the sauce a little too hard).
But as time passes, and your relations age, there comes a time when your parents begin to see their own mortality. All the faith in the world can’t stop the inevitable. The questions that start with “What if…” and “What happens when…” begin to creep into both their vernacular and yours. No one wants to be lost and forgotten, especially as they get older. Sadly, this is too often the case, where families dump their elder relations off in some sub-par nursing home or assisted-care facility. Granted, not all such facilities are like this. And not all seniors need “‘round-the-clock” care and minding. Some assisted-living environments make for outstanding facilities where your folks live out their golden years as independent, healthy and happy seniors. In such cases, you can rest easy, knowing that they will have the care that they need, should they need it, and you? You can visit them as often as you like.
However, there is another option that should be prayerfully considered. What’s that? Why, taking your parents into your home instead. Obviously, this option merits long and careful consideration on your part and that of your family. If you still have kids at home, or even if you are single, it creates a whole different dynamic, as opposed to if you and your significant other are together, and have been for years. But as you are considering life off the grid, one that is less complicated, less expensive and one that brings you full circle with your roots, bringing mom and dad home to live with you seems natural, doesn’t it?
When you bring your parents into your home, you must be mindful not only of the physical aspects of the home itself, but also of your parents’ needs. Starting out, you should get into the mindset that you would if you were going to baby-proof your home. No, don’t think of it in such degrading terms, though the principle is undeniably similar. If your parents have certain needs, such as mobility requirements, you will need to accommodate them. Perhaps they have issues with all the stairs in your house, meaning you will want to install a lift or ramp. Another common problem that seniors face is unsteadiness in the slippery environment of the bathroom. Still others have special dietary concerns. As the body ages, or your parent is beset with certain illnesses, these changes can mean utilizing a liquid diet such as can be found in products like Jevity or Ensure.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Start with the basics of the house – specifically in your parent’s (s’) bedroom.
- Is the room on the ground floor? Most seniors can’t handle stairs, as has been previously mentioned, and forcing them to can exacerbate any health issues they may have, such as asthma or arthritis. Indeed falls, which in the elderly can lead to fractures and death, will need to be avoided.
- Can the room be lit simply? Ideally this would be via a switch next to the door. You might also put a second switch for that light by the bed or in another location that is centrally convenient for your parents. Also, if there is a bedside lamp, it should be easily reachable, regardless of how your parent is situated, in or out of bed. Stretching could cause muscular injury, which again, you want to avoid.
- The same consideration can be leveled at the telephone, if there is one. Does the phone have buttons that are large, easy to read and manipulate?
- If there are any obstructions between the bedroom and the bathroom, remove them. These can include throw rugs, furniture, wastebaskets – anything at all that your parents could stumble or trip over in the dark. Going hand in hand with this is providing ample yet subtle illumination via a night light, so they can see where they are going in the middle of the night.
And then we have the bathroom. In addition to the hardware additions we mentioned above, like safety bars, you would do well to consider the addition of a modified toilet, offset hinges on the bathroom door (if it is not wide enough for your parent, if they use a mobility device like a walker or wheelchair). It could also do with a night light – since there’s nothing worse than having night vision, then being blinded when you turn on the bathroom light. Lastly, you might consider laying down a non-skid surface on the floor of the tub or even updating the whole tub to be more senior-friendly. This could include anything from a therapeutic Jacuzzi tub or better yet, a walk-in tub that doesn’t require the bather to step over the side to get in and out.
Last, but not least, you should take a look at any common areas. Are they easy to access? Is there a comfortable seat for your parents to enjoy in locations that are easily reached (no crossing the room just to sit down). There should ideally be a place to sit near every access point to the main common area, like the den or living room. Another thing to bear in mind about the furniture – make sure it is stable. There is nothing worse than having your parent go for a sit down, only to have the chair shift under them, causing them to fall and hurt themselves. Don’t forget about the importance of natural light, either.
The last thing to consider when moving your parents back home is being mindful that they may not always inform you of changes in their sight, hearing or other medical ailments. Conversely, some may tell you each and every detail in ad nauseam. It is important to separate fact from fiction, complaining from real pain. Arthritis…happens. Illness, sometimes minor, sometimes serious happens. Losing their friends will continue to happen over and over again. The point is, your parents listened and were there for every single cut and scrape you endured. They were there the first time you fell in love and the 10th time you fell in love. They were there when your heart was broken not once but several times. They were there to see you graduate from high school, college, get married and have kids (or dogs and cats). They gave you advice when you really needed it, encouraged you to live off the grid even when your friends and family thought you were losing your mind. If you cut them some slack, forgive them their foibles and be patient as they age, you will be glad you had them live with you. Will it be hard? Definitely. Will it entail a lot of responsibility? Assuredly. Will it be worth the price? Yes.
After all, those were the same questions they asked before you were brought into the world.