A video that went viral last year highlighted an all-too-common issue. In the video, a British couple, both age 89, who had been separated by the pandemic, were finally reunited after months apart. Living in different long-term care facilities, they had not been permitted to visit one another amid COVID lockdowns. As restrictions eased, the husband seized the opportunity to relocate to his wife’s nursing home, their reunion leaving few dry eyes among the staff.
Over the past few years, I’ve read numerous similar accounts about older couples who became separated from one another as a result of COVID precautions. Oftentimes, the scenario was one person was living in a nursing home or assisted living community while the other member of the couple was still living independently in the couple’s home.
Different care needs, different locations
The challenge of couples being separated because of differing care needs pre-dates the pandemic, of course. As couples age, it is not uncommon for one person to require a higher level of care than the other, sometimes resulting in their separation for just a short period of time but sometimes indefinitely.
Understandably, such separations can be extremely distressing for both members of the couple. For the person still living independently or in a lower level of care, there is often a sense of guilt that they can’t be with their partner as often as they might like, for example if travel logistics are challenging.
For the person in the higher level of care, the separation can be upsetting as well. Loneliness can quickly become a factor when living apart from a long-time partner, and it can be particularly distressing for people who are experiencing cognitive decline and may suffer from bouts of confusion.
In many cases, senior living and care facilities only offer one specific level of care. Perhaps it is an independent living community and thus only has independent living apartments or patio homes. Or it could be that it is a long-term care community assisted living or memory care, which provides care only to those particular demographics.
In addition, many long-term care facilities only offer single-occupancy rooms. While the privacy can be nice (versus rooming with a stranger), the flip side is that it prohibits the ability to share a room with your spouse or partner.
Together for life in a CCRC
For these and many other reasons, some couples choose to make a proactive move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community) while they are both still in relatively good health. CCRCs provide their residents with access to a full continuum of care services if needed, ranging from independent living to full-time skilled nursing care, typically all on the same campus.
While the convenience and peace of mind of such a set-up is highly attractive to many seniors, there is another added benefit. A CCRC can be a solution for couples who are concerned about being separated if one person eventually needs a higher level of care than the other.
Though in a situation where a couple’s care needs vary, they may end up being housed in different units, the proximity is typically such that the more able-bodied person can easily visit their partner daily, spend time with them, and possibly even eat their meals with them.
Growing old …together
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), about 70 percent of people over the age of 65 will require some level of long-term care services during their lifetime. Women, on average, will need care for a longer period of time (3.7 years) as compared to men (2.2 years), and 20 percent of 65-year-olds will need care for more than five years.
Based on these statistics, it seems likely that many couples could face a situation where one person requires more care and/or for a longer period of time than the other. This fact could lead to a scenario where partners become separated — potentially for an extended period of time.
Making senior living decisions involves consideration of numerous factors, of course, including finances and quality of life, but the desire to remain in close proximity to a partner is an important consideration as well. Although a CCRC/life plan community may not be the right option for everyone, they can help alleviate many concerns about being separated from a long-time love should a couple’s health decline at different rates.
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