Multigenerational households are on the rise in the U.S. and have recently been increasing dramatically due to a number of factors, including the economic downturn that began in 2007.
According to AARP’s Public Policy Institute fact sheet, in 2000, 4.8 percent of all households were multigenerational. By 2008, it was 5.3 percent and by 2010, 6.1 percent. The growth rate in multigenerational living between 2008 and 2010 was more rapid than in the preceding eight years combined.
Of course, the idea of multigenerational living is nothing new. In past generations across the population it was common for adult children to bring their senior parents into their households. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 32 million individuals in the U.S. were living in multigenerational homes in 1940 and1950 — about a quarter of the population. Those numbers decreased to 26 million by 1970, but by 1990 surpassed the earlier figure — reaching 35 million — and then went even higher to hit 49 million by 2008.
In some cultures, notably Hispanic and Asian, multigenerational living has always been a common part of the scene. “In some traditional cultures, you see that it’s just a natural progression to establish a multigenerational home when a senior family member needs help,” says Dan Hoffman, MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist who has worked with dozens of families in the throes of trying to make multigenerational living as trouble-free as possible. “Some families seem to adapt really well and have long-term success, while others struggle with a number of issues.”
Overcoming the Challenges of Multigenerational Living
Hoffman goes on to say that one of the major issues in a multigenerational home arises “when the person who is responsible for the care of the elder adult begins to feel stressed, overwhelmed and resentful.” He explains that it’s common for just one person to assume responsibility for the care of the senior, and the point often comes when that person needs help and support.
“Luckily, there are more and more services for people who need some extra support. With the growth in the aging population as Baby Boomers reach their senior years, more and more agencies and businesses are cropping up to provide at-home support,” he says.
For example, he points to a company called Home Instead, which began in 1994 as a small home-based business, and now is the largest senior care organization in the world. The Home Instead Senior Care network includes more than 1,000 franchise offices in 17 global markets and provides and coordinates a range of services, from companionship care to hospice services and everything in-between.
Of course, medical alert systems can be a huge support in helping families relieve some of the stresses of multigenerational living, offering them the chance to enrich their lives with the presence of a parent or grandparent. A medical alert device can allow family caregivers to address their biggest concern, knowing that help is accessible even in those moments when they can’t be right with their loved one.
Other product solutions, like a medical dispensing service, can provide additional aid to seniors by reminding them to dispense their medication at pre-programmed times.
“It’s not surprising that we’re seeing lots of services like this to help seniors avoid the move to institutional long-term care as long as possible,” says Hoffman. “Baby Boomers have always been trailblazers, unwilling to just accept the status quo. So they and their children are going to be looking for new ways to help with the challenges of aging.”.
Making the Best of These Crowded Houses
Another issue, Hoffman adds, is that children (or spouses) might feel neglected when Mom and/or Dad spend a lot of time caring for Grandma or Grandpa. So a number of counseling agencies — including his — now offer in-home counseling to help sort out issues across the generations.
And then there’s the issue of crowding when Grandma comes to stay. To alleviate that problem, many families renovate their homes to incorporate mother-in-law apartments or even bring in small, modular cottages that can be moved if living situations change.
Even with the challenges, bringing an aging parent into your home is not without reward. Relationships can be forged on a different level between the generations, reaping benefits for grandparents, parents and children.
“It’s great to see so many families moving back in the direction of multigenerational living,” says Hoffman. “If a family deals with the issues that can arise, having an elder member in the home can be a very enriching experience.”