How to Live with an Elderly Person

Three Parts:Creating a Positive and Respectful Living EnvironmentOrganizing Your Home and Making it Accessible and SafeWatching out for the Elderly Person’s Welfare

Living with an elderly person has both rewards and challenges for everyone involved. But we also need to respect the need of older people to feel self-sufficient and independent, while also offering assistance where assistance is needed. Both parties need to be patient and understand their unique living situation in order to make it work. Ultimately, as all people are different, all situations will be unique as well, and everyone will face unique challenges. But if both parties are open to communicating with each other, then the living situation will be a happy and mutually beneficial one.

Part 1
Creating a Positive and Respectful Living Environment

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    Communicate with your elderly roommate. Communication is the most important element of any relationship. If you don’t communicate, you won’t know each other’s problems and concerns. As a result, you won’t be able to form a relationship that is respecting of both of your unique qualities.
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    Define boundaries. Both parties need to define boundaries and come to a mutual agreement about each other’s space, independence, and autonomy. You need to understand what your elderly person is comfortable with when it comes to being assisted or being subtly monitored to make sure they are okay.
    • Talk to them them about their expectations about your relationship. What do they expect of you in terms of assistance and interaction?
    • Discuss use of shared space like the bathroom, kitchen, or living room.
    • Come to an agreement about under what circumstances family or friends will visit.
    • Discuss use of each other's personal belongings, like dishes, appliances, and even food.
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    Figure out finances. Figure out who pays for what ahead of time. Having finances decided and agreed upon ahead of time could save you from a headache or even legal fees in the future. Records will make a big difference here, so if you start out knowing who pays for what, and have it written down, you are ahead of the game. Also, consider the following:
    • Pool your resources. Use both of your financial resources and try to get a home that's nicer than the one you could afford by yourselves.
    • Include relatives in discussions about money. If you’re going to be living with an elderly family member, make sure to speak with your other relatives to be transparent about your financial agreement. Be open to their feedback, especially if they will be contributing to the cost. This will help you avoid problems and resentment in the future.
    • Consider the cost. If you will be covering the cost of your elderly relative, be informed about the costs. One recent study found that caregivers spend about $5,500 per year caring for elderly relatives. Another study concluded that caregivers spent almost $15,000 a year caring for their elderly relative.[1][2][3]
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    Give the person respect as an individual. Avoid treating the person like a child. Older people have experienced life much more deeply than we often appreciate, and have many more life experiences. Ask your elderly person questions about their life, what they think, and what they care about.
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    Give the person privacy. When possible, they should have as much privacy and personal space as it is practical to allow. Don’t turn yourself into a caregiver or a nurse without need or invitation and don't violate their personal space. Always communicate first if you are concerned about your elderly roommate.
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    Support the older person's autonomy. Let him or her make their own choices and do not substitute your own judgement for theirs. Every adult has the capacity to make at least some, if not all, of his or her own decisions, so help enhance the person's capacity to do and choose as much as possible for himself or herself. Don't assume merely because of advanced age that people cannot manage their own affairs, even if you do not agree with them.
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    Appreciate their wisdom and life experiences. You’re the younger person with less experience. Your elderly roommate probably has wisdom and experience well beyond your own. Talk to them and ask them for guidance on issues that pertain to both of you.

Part 2
Organizing Your Home and Making it Accessible and Safe

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    Make sure the house is accessible. Depending on the older person’s physical condition, you will need to consider several things in order to make your home accessible.
    • Install mobility aids if the person needs them. Consider grab bars at the toilet and bath tub. Also consider a shower seat. In addition, consider a wheelchair ramp or an electric wheelchair lift.
    • Protect the person from the potential dangers of stairs. Think about this if the older person is needs to access any areas that are not on the main level of a home.
    • Equip your home with handicap accessible features. Is the bathroom big enough to handle a wheelchair or walker if necessary? For a wheelchair, the doorway needs to be at least 32 inches wide, and preferably 36 inches.
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    Keep the house organized and uncluttered. Your house should be organized and uncluttered, especially in a situation where the person has limited mobility, uses a walker, wheelchair, or other mobility assistance, or their eyesight is poor. After all, you want your elderly roommate to be able to move around without tripping or bumping into things.[4]
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    Make sure the house has HVAC, telephone, and even an emergency panic system. Heating, ventilation, and a cooling system are extremely important for older people who might have chronic conditions or are more sensitive to the elements. In addition, you should have a telephone and possibly a panic system so that your roommate can call for help or contact emergency response workers if there is some sort of accident.

Part 3
Watching out for the Elderly Person’s Welfare

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    Understand their abilities and limitations. As different people have different problems and abilities as they age, you need to quickly determine what kind of abilities and/or assistance they will need. If they have decreased abilities and physical or mental limitations, there are several factors you need to consider:
    • What is the person's physical and mental condition and what chronic illness does the person have? If so, you need to take these into account and prepare for them.
    • Is the person of sound mind? If your elderly roommate has or is developing dementia or Alzheimer’s, you need to seriously consider what you are going to do to keep that person safe. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at for more information.
    • Is the person physically able to take care of themselves? If not, make sure the elderly person always has someone around to look after them. If you work outside the home, then the day may come where you have to hire some in-home help to care for the older person.[5]
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    Consider the level of assistance you and your family can provide. You need to know what help and how much time you can commit to possibly assisting an elderly person that you live with. If you will have to provide a lot of assistance, this may create unanticipated stresses in your life.[6]
    • Be realistic about the level of help your elderly roommate might need. This might increase over time.
    • Know your limits and your comfort with helping the person with basic things like dressing, bathing, and going to the bathroom.
    • Think about your schedule. Consider this if you have a full-time career and children.[7]
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    Keep records for them if they are not able to. If the person is not a family member, you should have their family’s contact information. If the person is comfortable with this, you should also have their emergency medical information, and know where their important documents are in case of emergency. This way, you'll have all the information you need in the event of an emergency.
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    Know what medications they’re taking. If the person needs the help, familiarize yourself with what medications they take in case there is an accident or medical emergency. Also be aware of drug interaction warnings, and instructions for taking medicine which requires either fasting, or taking with food.
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    Help the person with keeping their basic grooming presentable. Often elderly people cannot trim finger and toenails, comb or brush their hair, or put on and tie shoes. This is an important thing in order to make sure someone stays confident and ready to interact with others. If you want, help them if they have trouble, but only if they consent.
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    Watch out for scammers and frauds. Unfortunately, there are people who take advantage of and prey on older people, including con-men, salespeople, and people claiming to represent religious organizations. Such people will solicit money from older people by taking advantage of their good nature or lack of proper information.
    • Turning these people away at the door, or simply asking your elderly roommate about their daily interactions over dinner might prevent this. This will not just protect your elderly roommate from financial disaster, but it will also save you a headache in dealing with the repercussions.
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    Understand their dietary needs, including sugar or salt intake. Older people are often on restricted diets, and are tempted just like the rest of us. If your elderly roommate is suffering from memory problems, they might even forget about their own dietary needs. But remember, don't nag or be overly aggressive when it comes to this. Respect their choices, while watching out for their welfare.


  • Not all of the above parts and steps will be appropriate for all situations at the same time. Use your judgement, and based on your individual circumstances, and your elderly housemate’s circumstances, adjust accordingly.
  • There are also a number of challenges that come into the situation when young children or large extended families are living together. You need to consider how this will impact everyone in the home, and plan accordingly.
  • Have a plan for down the road. As people get older, their health often deteriorates. If your elderly roommate is in good health now, they might not be in the future. Talk to them about what they want in the event that their health deteriorates slowly or suddenly through a stroke or some other event.
  • If your elderly roommate is comfortable with this, have a talk about end of life issues. Find out about care options, such as hiring someone to come into the home to help. However, know ahead, that the day may come where your elder will need fulltime professional help.[8]

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