Deep Blue Publications Group LLC: 5 Tips for Assisted Living Placement for Couples

What if one of your parents needs assisted living and the other doesn’t want to leave their spouse’s side? Read our tips on finding AL for couples.

There are a lot of how-to guides out there to help you through the senior care process; most of them focusing on what it’s like to place one loved one into assisted living. But what if you are faced with finding a place for both parents?  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? Recently, researchers have begun delving into the topic of married life in assisted living, and there are a few tips you can follow to make the process run smoothly for both you and your loved ones.

Guidelines for Placing Couples in Assisted Living

Health transitions are one of the most common reasons prompting individuals or couples to begin the search for assisted living, according to a study by Candace Kemp, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in Gerontology and Sociology at Georgia State University. The key to not getting caught off guard by a sudden health change 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. If you’re not prepared and there’s a crisis situation, it limits the facility options available to you.

Especially for those without a family that is able to contribute to long-term care, the prospect of putting both members of a couple into assisted living can be financially daunting. Some facilities are very expensive, especially for those with differing health status or those requiring memory care, and in many cases assisted living facilities do not work with Medicaid. Properly planning for long-term care can be the key to stretching the resources you do have and enabling your aging parents to continue residing together.

While more and more couples are entering older age together, couples are still the minority in assisted-living settings, and most facilities are designed with a single occupant in mind rather than two. When there are two-person apartments available, they are often more costly. Beyond the personal space issue are the realities of living in a community environment. “Although each couple had a private room of varying size,” says Kemp’s study, “the comings and goings of care staff, the regulation of daily life, and the public nature of assisted living meant, according to one husband, that ‘no one has privacy.’” Being aware of the differences between your parents’ current environment and an assisted living facility can help everyone prepare better for the transition.

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.

Monitoring not one, but two parents in assisted living can be an added challenge when you throw in the very real likelihood that one or both of them may have unforeseen health changes in the future. In another study, Kemp found that adult children often take on a greater magnitude of responsibility when overseeing two parents in AL, a particularly challenging task when the two parents had differing levels of infirmity, or different needs at different times. One way to minimize stress in this situation is to familiarize yourself with the facility’s policies regarding resident retention in the face of health changes. If you’ll need to pay for additional outside services, or move your parents to a different facility such as a nursing home, be well aware of that possibility in advance.

One last bonus tip: arranging senior care for a couple can be hard, requiring families to consider individual and shared needs of both spouses – but don’t forget to consider the needs of the caregiver, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from a Senior Living Advisor, financial planner, or other expert when it comes to finding the best fit for your loved ones.