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What to Do When Care Needs Differ for Senior Spouses

Posted on: Aug 28, 2019

After spending decades building a life together, it can be difficult when one spouse requires care the other doesn’t, or when both require assistance, but the levels of care are different. Perhaps you’re able to live independently but your partner needs memory care; or you need personal care, but your significant other needs more medical attention in the form of skilled nursing care. What options do couples have when they have differing care needs?

When Care Needs Differ for Senior Spouses

Every day, older adults come face to face with the fact that it’s no longer possible for them to continue living safely in their own home. As difficult as this decision can be, it becomes heartbreaking when spouses fear separation because differing care needs are involved. While differing care needs for spouses may make long-term medical decisions slightly more complex, many senior communities specialize in offering varying levels of care for this reason.

This is great news considering each person faces a wide range of unique health challenges and will experience the effects of aging at varying rates. No two people age in exactly the same manner. It’s not unusual for one spouse to require professional care much sooner than the other. Knowing this, it’s important for couples to plan ahead and take a proactive approach to their living arrangements. Too often, a crisis occurs forcing one spouse and/or other family members to choose a community without the input or preferences of both people involved.

Be Proactive about Choosing a Senior Living Community

It’s best to be proactive rather than waiting until you’re forced to make a decision. Planning ahead makes it possible for couples to:

  • Tour senior living communities together
  • Find a community that offers accommodations for couples
  • Share their wants and desires with each other and any family members involved
  • Become comfortable with the idea of living in a community
  • Find the community that fits their personalities, where they can both live comfortably
  • Feel like they have some say (and control) in where they will live when they require some assistance in the future

After touring communities, couples can select one or two communities that they like and keep them in mind for a time in the future if (and when) they find themselves in need of assistance. This makes it possible to make a decision quickly and easily when the time comes to make a move. Couples may even consider moving to independent living sections of the community before they need help to take advantage of the amenities while they’re healthy and make the transition easier to care neighborhoods easier later on.

Consider the Needs of Both Parties

Obviously, you’ll be focused on finding a community that meets the needs of the person requiring the most care and assistance; but in doing so, it can be easy to overlook the needs of the spouse requiring less care or assistance.

When you’ve located a community that accommodates couples and one that is able to address the care needs of the person requiring the most care, then it’s time to make sure the community is able to meet the other person’s needs as well. It’s important to remember that social needs are as important as physical needs. Most older adults still want and need to:

  • Be able to socialize
  • Take part in hobbies and activities
  • Have access to some form of exercise
  • Be able to run errands
  • Be able to entertain family and friends

This is where living in a senior community really pays off for couples with differing care needs. Each spouse receives the level of physical care they require while also having access to activities and social opportunities. If the couple were to continue to live in their own home, one spouse would wind up providing for the care needs of the other, often to the detriment of the care provider. In a senior care community, the lives of both parties are enriched and both spouses can live as socially and independently as they desire.

Other Things to Consider

As you look at your options, here are a few things that you need to consider.

Safety and Separate Accommodations

As care needs increase, even professional caregiving can become difficult in the home. It may become necessary to find alternative living arrangements for the safety of the couple and for the well-being of both.

Not all communities are built to accommodate couples. Some communities are designed with single-occupant rooms only. This means that although the couple may live within the same community, they may not be able to live in the same room or apartment. This could be especially true when one of them requires specialized care. When memory care or skilled nursing care is required, accommodations are available only for the person who requires specialized care.

As much as both parties involved would like to continue to live together, it may not always be possible. It may be necessary for one to continue living in their home while their significant other transitions into a skilled nursing facility. Although it can be difficult and emotional to be separated, it may be the best and only option, especially when a medical crisis prompts the decision. When a medical crisis, such as a heart attack, stroke or a fall, occurs, the person requiring care may move into a community (such as a skilled nursing and rehabilitation community) that provides the care required, with hopes and plans to return home when they have improved.

Senior Living Communities and Changing Needs

Another option available to couples is finding a community with on-going care. Communities with a full continuum of care — from independent living to personal care to skilled nursing care — have access to all care levels on one convenient campus. As care needs change, you are moved within the community. Couples with differing care needs may not live in the same apartment but would be on the same campus at all times, even as care needs change.

Don’t forget — care needs will change. Unless a community provides all levels of care, couples may find themselves separated into different communities as care needs change. Although a community provides a certain type of care, a vacancy may not be available for a person to move into it as they start to need more or less support. Many communities try to guarantee that there is always space for someone no matter what their care need is; however, this guarantee may come with a higher price tag.

Tips for Handling a Senior Living Care Separation

You’ve done everything you can to try to make sure that you and your spouse, or the couple in your family, is able to continue living together, but you’ve been unsuccessful. For whatever reason, you will not be able to live in the same community. These tips can help.

Realize that you and your spouse are doing the best you can in a difficult and complicated situation. Don’t carry around a lot of guilt for what has to be. Instead, focus on what you can do to make the situation as good as it can possibly be.

The healthier spouse has probably spent some time — generally months or years — being a care provider to the less healthy spouse. Being a care provider to a spouse is hard work and you can lose yourself. If you have been the care provider, now is the time to learn how to take care of yourself once again. Get reacquainted with friends. Pick up an old hobby or develop a new one. Learn how to do things for yourself once again.

Make sure that the spouses have the ability to spend time together as frequently as they would like. Investigate senior transportation services through your local Department of Aging so that family members don’t become burned out trying to make sure the couple gets to spend time together. Pick a community that is close to where the second spouse is living.

Create a visiting schedule so visits from family and friends are spread out between the couple and their locations. The spouse who continues to live at home will be relieved knowing that someone is visiting their significant other in the senior living community, so they have time to take care of things while someone else is visiting their significant other.

PPH for Couples with Differing Care Needs

There is no universal right or wrong way to find a living solution for couples who have differing care needs. Ultimately, it’s up to the couple to determine what is right for them.

Finding and choosing the right senior care community for couples with differing care needs can be a challenge, but by taking the time to make sure both person’s needs are met, you’re more likely to ensure that both individuals will be happy and healthy for many years to come. While life in the community may not be exactly what you had planned for the future, you’re sure to find that both spouses will benefit from the move once they’ve had time to settle into their new home.

Hopefully, you’ve had time to take a proactive approach to this decision and are able to tour various communities to determine which will best meet your needs. We’d love to talk to you about how we can help couples with differing care needs live a healthy and happy life. PPH provides various levels of senior care options, including independent living, memory care, personal care and skilled nursing & rehabilitation. We specialize in providing superior options to families who need or want to move into a senior living community. Contact us today to discover how we can meet the needs of couples with differing care needs, helping them to live an extraordinary life together.

What Residents Say

"In my two years at PPH, I’ve grown to like it very much. At first, I felt like a stranger and then as I began to talk to people, we increasingly became good friends. A way to meet people is to join clubs. I’m now part of the PPH Auxiliary. I love helping with their flea markets because you never know what you can find. Recently, I’ve joined an evening quilting class. I love that I can continue to enjoy my life outside of PPH while experiencing the offers here.….especially the pool! Everything is just so convenient.

– Lucille Hite, Independent Living resident

What Families Say

"My mom is sooo happy at PPH, I can’t even describe it in strong enough words. She’s met so many new friends and these ladies do EVERYTHING together! She sees Dad every day in Pathways, but can have her life too. She’s gone to so many activities and I think I’ve already been to Scoops with her at least 15 times. She loves the dining room and Bistro too. My sister, Ilene, and I are so delighted that Mom is happy.......Wow, it feels like Mom’s been there about 2 years—but it’s only 2 months!! That’s how comfortable and natural it feels for her – and for all of us.

– Rhonda Frenkel, daughter of residents Jack & Bernice Segal