When we get married, we often think fondly about growing old together: spending our retirements traveling the world, visiting children and grandchildren, sitting in front of the fire holding hands … the ease and comfort of aging along with your best friend in the world. However, the reality of aging doesn’t always line up with our rose-colored hopes.
“Medical advancements mean that Americans are living longer and longer, which is a wonderful thing, but it also means that more couples are facing the challenge of one spouse requiring a higher level of care than the other,” says Sue Sunderland, Executive Director of The Bridges at Warwick, a supportive personal care community in Jamison, PA. “While the healthier spouse may be able to care for their loved one for a while, this becomes problematic if he or she can no longer provide the assistance that’s needed due to health issues of their own or because it simply becomes too much to handle.”
The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that one in 10 caregivers in the United States are in a spousal-caregiving situation. On average, the caregiver in the relationship is about 62 years old, and one-third of them have health issues of their own.
“Caregiving is a full-time job, and spousal caregivers spend upwards of 40 hours a week taking care of their spouse,” says Sue. “Even for healthy spouses, this can quickly take a toll on their emotional, physical and mental health, not to mention the effect this all has on the romantic relationship between the two spouses.”
Eventually, she says, there may come a time when the healthier individual has to make the decision to move their spouse into a senior living community.
“This can be a very difficult situation, especially if you will not be moving with your spouse,” says Sue. “In some ways, it’s a lot like dealing with a death in the family, because it symbolizes the end of your relationship as you once knew it. However, it’s important to remember you are not alone – there are many other couples out there who are in similar situations. By understanding the emotional and logistical challenges and taking steps to provide the best possible care for yourself and your loved one, you can make this transition as easy as possible – and you may find that, eventually, it helps your marriage grow even stronger.”
If you are making the decision to move your spouse into an assisted living or memory care community, here are some tips for helping deal with the change while still nurturing a strong relationship with your spouse.
Find a community that supports couples and has experience with these types of situations.
Since your situation is the same that’s being faced by many other couples, senior living communities are stepping up to the challenge and providing an atmosphere of support and understanding. As you’re researching communities for your loved one, make sure you ask about how healthy spouses are accommodated in community life. Is the community close to where you currently live and is it easy for you to get to on a regular basis? Does the community provide transportation options for you or your spouse? Are there set visiting hours, or do they provide flexible schedules? What activities and opportunities are there for spouses to spend time together?
Make a plan on how to continue your relationship, moving forward.
The marital bond doesn’t go away just because one spouse moves into a senior living community. Before any moves are made, sit down and come up with ways to continue the marriage as much as possible. Perhaps you can come over every day in the afternoon, eat dinner with your loved one and then spend the early evening doing activities or talking before bedtime. You can also look at what activities are offered both on site and offsite by the community and find ones you both can enjoy together, like exercise classes, book clubs, game nights or simply watching a favorite TV program.
Don’t forget the importance of private time.
Intimacy remains an important part of a marriage no matter how old we get. Although your spouse is no longer living in the same house as you, it’s important to still find opportunities for “alone time.” This may require discussion with staff members, which can be awkward at first, but rest assured that you are not the first person to address this issue. Find a solution that works with your loved one’s abilities and the boundaries of the facility. Could your loved one stay with you on certain nights, or vice versa? Could you schedule a block of time on a particular day where you won’t be interrupted?
Take care of yourself and your emotions.
You may feel guilt, sadness, regret or even anger when you have to move your spouse to senior living. These are all natural, normal responses. The best thing you can do is to seek support from close friends, family members, religious leaders or even medical professionals. Look for support groups in your area (or online) so you can connect with others who are in similar situations – not only will you find a haven where you can share your stories and not feel judged, you will also receive useful tips and resources and make strong, fast friendships. Don’t forget the importance of getting out and finding joy in the things you love, either. Now that your time is no longer completely tied up caring for your spouse, you can – and should – pursue activities that fill your soul. By taking care of yourself and working through your emotions, you’ll be able to be the best spouse possible for your loved one.
Plan for the future.
Moving your spouse to a senior living community isn’t the end – it’s simply the beginning of a new chapter. You and your spouse should take some time to plan for the future for both of you. If and when you need care, will you be able to move into the community with your spouse? Is that something you want to consider doing now, before you need the assistance? How will you each live fulfilled, happy and joyful lives while being somewhat separated? Thinking through these options can help you reclaim your relationship’s future and provide peace of mind.
The decision to move your spouse to a senior living community is not an easy one. But remember that by allowing others to become caregivers for your loved one, you and your spouse are given back the gift of your relationship. You can step back into your role as husband or wife and shift your focus to building and strengthening your marriage moving forward.
For more information about dealing with moving a spouse to a senior living community, contact our staff at The Bridges at Warwick.
Activity. Friendship. Support. Convenience. Value.
You’ll find it all at The Bridges at Warwick, located in beautiful Bucks County, where everyday is a celebration of seniors. Our philosophy of “Celebrating Life” means that our residents enjoy a sense of purpose and contentment along with fun, personalized care and a focus on total well-being.
Our Personalized Supportive Care provides just the right amount of assistance to help you remain independent, along with life-enriching programs, services and amenities. Our exclusive Vista Transitional Living Program offers specialized programming our supportive care residents who have memory challenges but do not yet require a secure residence. For those whose memory loss is more advanced, we offer The Vista, our secure, comprehensive memory care residence.
In keeping with our founder Robert Basile’s personal philosophy, developed during his efforts to find quality senior living for his beloved father, senior adults remain our passion. We fill our residents’ lives with countless opportunities to engage with both new and treasured friends; events and programs to enjoy with family members and loved ones; as well as innovative and creative activities that foster engagement. Our dedication to total wellness – for mind, body and spirit – is woven into our culture every day.
Contact us today or call 215.269.7745 for more information or to arrange a personal tour.