Advice for Living in a Multigenerational Home During a Pandemic

No doubt about it: the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just upended the way that we earn our living and get our education. It’s not just brought our social lives to a screeching halt.

For a great many of us, it’s changed the way we think of home. It may be because money matters or sheer practicality has forced you to quarantine in your parents’ or even your grandparents’ house. On the other hand, you might have opened up your home to your elderly relatives in the hope of keeping them safe and well taken care of as we learn to live life under lockdown.

Whatever the reason or the configuration, though, if you’ve found yourself trying to ride out the pandemic in a suddenly multi-generational household, chances are you’re more than feeling the pressure right now. 

And you’re not alone. According to recent estimates, as many as 1 in 5 Americans live in multigenerational households and many of those homes have at least three generations under one roof. 

But how do you shelter in place with Mom and Dad, Grandma and Pop-Pop without losing your mind or, worse, risking their health?

Deciding the Time is Right

Living in a multigenerational household might be something you never anticipated. Indeed, your family may not have made the leap yet. However, as the pandemic continues to rage across the U.S., it may well be time to consider if moving your senior loved one into your home is going to be the safest option for them. 

A key consideration, of course, will be to ensure they have their own space and that everyone is clear on the ground rules for making such a transition. After all, the ultimate goal is to keep the family together, safe, healthy, and happy. It will take some planning and a period of adjustment for all, but it can be done.

When Distance Isn’t an Option

The simple fact is that unless you’re living on the Kennedy compound, it’s not really possible to practice true social distancing all the time in a multigenerational home. So what that means is having a plan in place to limit the exposure of the entire household as much as possible.

For example, you might designate one of the younger and healthier family members to be responsible for household errands. Make sure that they limit their number of trips and the time spent out in the community. And, of course, wearing masks and practicing meticulous hand hygiene are musts, not only while they’re out and about, but also when they get back home.

Paying the Price

One of the scariest aspects of the pandemic isn’t just the virus. It’s also the cost of care. Even if you are fortunate to have health insurance coverage, you may be faced with deductibles so excessive a major illness like COVID could put you in the poor house before you’d even begun to build your financial future.

And worries about health insurance coverage aren’t just a concern of the young. Even the elderly who are covered under Medicare may face unexpected medical costs due to coverage gaps such as limitations on certain hospice care benefits. 

Likewise, if your loved one is a member of the LGBTQ community, you may find that they are suffering from the effects of a lifetime of underservice. This often includes a lack of access to consistent, high-quality physical and mental healthcare. And that can make them especially vulnerable both to the health risks of the virus and the mental strain of lockdown.

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If the worst happens and you or, especially an elderly loved one, is diagnosed with coronavirus, you may find yourself looking to alternative sources to help offset these massive coverage gaps or the heavy burden of deductibles. 

Crowdfunding, for instance, can be a powerful way to get the word out about your or your loved one’s health needs. Sites like GoFundMe may even enable you to avoid what was already the nation’s number one cause of bankruptcy even before the pandemic struck: medical costs.

Try a Little Tenderness

This pandemic has been frightening for us all. But if you live with an elderly family member, you already know that not only are they vulnerable physically, but they are also often quite vulnerable mentally and emotionally.

This is especially true for those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, those who must wake up each day and discover the fear of the virus all over again. Caring for a loved one with dementia while sheltering in place means that you will need to be extra vigilant about ensuring your loved one’s hygiene. 

But, just as important, it means being vigilant about their stress and your own. This is the time to practice extreme self-care, including ensuring that other health caregivers are in place to share the daily caregiving responsibilities. This will not only make it less likely that you’re going to get sick due to stress and overwork, but it will also provide your loved one with continuity of care should you have to self-isolate after exposure. This is also a good idea for households with children. 

The Takeaway

This time last year, none of us could imagine that we would be spending the spring and summer of 2020 under lockdown. We certainly would not have envisioned hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the United States and millions sickened. And few of us could have ever dreamt of sheltering in place for weeks at a time with multiple generations under one roof. It is by no means easy. But it is absolutely worth it. What it requires, above all, is a sprinkle of strategy, a boatload of patience, and an ocean of family love.

Frankie Wallace
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