Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



While elders tend to prefer to “age in place,” they often have reason to consider residential alternatives. Declining health and loss of social supports invite elders to consider modifying their homes or moving to other settings that are less demanding and more supportive. Residential adjustments of elders are often a family issue. Among middle-aged adults, worry about the safety of aging parents in their residential environments is widespread. Also common is frustration among adult children about their difficulties in persuading parents to make recommended residential adjustments.

We conducted a qualitative study on residential decision-making based on focus groups and qualitative interviews with elders and adult children in the Boston area. Residential concerns and issues raised included safety, mobility barriers, home and property maintenance, affordability, and proximity to formal and informal help. We sought information about a variety of residential adjustments including home modifications, use of assistive equipment, and moves to other settings.

We found that most elders want to make decisions about residential adjustments by themselves. Many elders see little need to turn to adult children for advice and do not want to burden children. Adult children typically feel responsible in spite of parental insistence that no help is needed and often find it difficult to give parents advice. Adult children are often disappointed that the advice they provide parents is not well received. Elders and adult children often lack accurate information about residential options.

While some families communicate effectively and cooperatively to find creative residential solutions, many do not. Most often residential adjustments are made in response to challenging events (death of a spouse or major health event). Further, adjustments are often short-term. Relatively rarely do older people anticipate their support needs and make forward-looking adjustments that will strengthen their ability to cope with declining functional capacity when it occurs.


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