Couples Living in Assisted Living
With America’s exponentially aging population, finding assisted living for couples with different care needs is becoming more of a reality for families. Read below for tips on how to make the transition as seamless as possible.
A situation involving finding senior care for both parents with different care needs can be overwhelming and seemingly impossible. However, as life spans continue to increase, this situation is becoming more and more familiar to those caring for aging parents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of those aged 60 and over who reported being married has increased over the past several decades, while the number reporting widowhood has decreased. Many of those couples find it necessary to look for assisted living as they age — and they want to do so without being separated.
Of course, this presents a number of challenges beyond those involved with searching for senior housing for one parent only. What if one partner has drastically different health care requirements than the other? How can you ensure that both of your parents’ emotional and social needs are met? The topic of married life in assisted living is a tricky one, but there are a few tips to help you make the process run smoothly for both you and your elderly loved ones.
Catering to Couples Living in Assisted Living
Acknowledging there is going to be a transition into senior living is important; especially when your aging parents have different care needs. The good news is that many senior care communities address this issue every day. Melissa Henston, geriatric psychologist and A Place for Mom expert, comments:
“People are the same as when they’re younger; emotions can just be heightened and health disorders can change things. Assisted living communities are having to address that couples want companionship and are living longer, so they need good options, such as adequate space needs for couples and different health care arrangements for couples with different care needs. It’s important to tour the community and make sure it caters to both seniors’ needs.”
Here are a few tips to finding communities for aging parents with different care needs:
1. Do Research Before Problems Arise
Researching communities ahead of time can make fast decisions and transitions easier for everyone involved. If couples begin the search for senior living options when they’re both sound of mind, it takes stress of the family when health starts to decline. Candace Kemp, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in Gerontology and Sociology at Georgia State university notes, “The key to not getting caught off guard by sudden health changes is to start the planning process ahead of time. Being proactive in this way is associated with greater satisfaction in the long run, because it allows families and seniors to take the time to find a facility that’s a good fit and it gives everyone more control over the decision-making process.” When a crisis situation occurs, having a plan in place not only saves time and money, it also ensures more satisfaction with the community.
2. Find a Solution That Caters to Changing Healthcare Needs
Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) or Assisted Living
When a wife needs memory care and her husband remains sound-of-mind but wants to stay near his wife, your family may want to consider a continuing care retirement community that also has an assisted living and memory care program. These types of communities offer a long-term solution for couples with differing care needs as CCRCs offer every stage of senior living in one location, in different wings or communities for couples or residents with wide-ranging care.
Family care homes are also options for aging couples with different care needs. Family homes typically have a small amount of residents in a residential-home setting and often procure different needs, which can be very accommodating for elderly couples.
Home Health Care
Home health care is also an option for couples with differing care needs. For couples who desire to stay in their home, but also require help with basic care needs — or even need round-the-clock-care for memory disorders like Alzheimer’s or dementia — they can hire professional help to meet the different needs of the couple living together. In this situation, it’s important to note that an investment in moderate home improvement to create the appropriate space for changing health care needs is often necessary.
Skilled nursing is another possibility for couples. These facilities can be a a part of a CCRC or separate, but offer a skilled nursing facility room, specialized medical care, comprehensive therapy and rehabilitation, in addition to assistance with ADL needs and dining programs. Specialized medical care and amenities are perks to this option. Being aware of the difference between your parents’ current environment and their new arrangements can help everyone better prepare for the transition.
3. Prepare for Downsizing and Making the New Space Comfortable
Moving from a family home into senior living can be dramatic for some families. Couples are still the minorities in assisted living, CCRC and senior care settings, and most communities are designed with a single occupant in mind, rather than two. Two-person rooms and apartments are often more costly and still require extensive downsizing.
4. Understand the Community’s Intimacy Policies
Acclimating to a new life together can be challenging, and some couples do it more gracefully than others. Senior living communities should have intimacy policies in place as it is a very common happenstance in communities. In fact, while Dr. Henston points out that sex can be a touchy subject as people age, it’s a very normal one:
“Sex is a very regular conversation as people are still sexually active as they age — or they still want to be. Sex is a healthy part of aging and relationships and every senior care community needs to disclose how their community manages sex since it’s a normal human practice.”
Many couples have their own rooms, so normal intimacy practices continue. However, if the couples require different assistance, such as one requires memory care or rooms with no locks, an arrangement has to be made with the community for intimacy. All of this should be discussed before the move.
5. Understand Both Individual and Shared Needs
Different couples have different relationship needs — and, likewise, individuals within a couple may have different social and health needs. If one member of a couple is healthier, more mobile, and/or more sociable, it will help with their day-to-day well-being if the assisted living facility offers leisure activities that are appealing and fulfilling for both parties. If the healthier partner wants to take a fitness class, will they feel comfortable leaving their spouse in the care of staff? Can both parties get their social needs met? Be sure to research the amenities and care provided by an assisted living facility ahead of time, to ensure that it will offer a pleasant quality of life for both members of the couple.
Dr. Henston also points out that there are other things to consider:
“The strength of the marriage or partnership must also be taken into consideration. Sometimes the children who are trying to assist the older couple assume that the marriage is much happier and stronger than it actually may be. There might be a reason one parent is less happy with the burden of care being placed on their shoulders. There have been instances that I have encountered where one part of the partnership is no longer wanting to actually live with their other half. I had an older couple in their 90s where the wife no longer wanted the burden of care placed upon her. She was physically healthier than her husband and he required more care from her. She noted that the marriage had not been lovely and supportive and that he had had numerous affairs and thus she no longer wanted to be the caregiver. However, she reflected she could never tell her adult children that their father had been less than an ideal husband. When discussing living environments this client was inclined to live in the same facility but separately from her less functional husband. The children could not seem to understand her desire to get away from their father. So we as children assisting her parents should not assume that the marriage is perfect.”
“Overall, couples living together in a retirement facility of some form is a wonderful way to provide safety, security, and care to an older couple who would like to remain together but require more help. Family members who help provide care and advice should listen carefully to what the couple need and want before making any placement decisions.”
Have you found yourself in the position of placing both parents into an assisted living facility? What were your experiences with finding senior care and settling them into place? Let us know in the comments below.
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