Your dad is 78 and in relatively good shape. Your mom is a 74-year-old with moderate memory loss and diabetes. What happens when it becomes clear that your dad can’t keep caring for your mom at home?
If your parents are like many couples out there, the last thing they want to do is separate from each other. They vowed to stay together, and, after weathering a few storms during their decades-long marriage, they’re committed to “’til death do us part.”
It’s a beautiful promise — but you know your mom would benefit from having a professional care team and your dad could use a break.
“It’s a tough situation when you have two parents who both need care but they need different types of care or different levels of care,” says Marjorie Todd, Chief Executive Officer of Highgate Senior Living.
You want the best for both of your parents — but what if the best thing for your dad isn’t the same as your mom?
Assisted Living Options for Couples
Not all assisted living communities are designed to care for couples with varying needs: Most facilities require a loved one who has a dementia diagnosis to live in a secured area called “memory care.” A lot of senior living communities don’t allow a couple where one spouse is right for independent living and the other requires assistance with activities of daily living to live together, either.
“I looked at two or three places, and they both tried to separate us,” recalls Hu, who searched for assisted living for couples for him and his wife, Clara, after she had a stroke. “In one place, we even had to eat in different dining halls. I walked out after I heard that.”
Other assisted living communities prioritize not only keeping couples together but also ensuring that each person in the couple gets their own unique needs met. These assisted living communities offer specialized programs so couples can live in the same residence while each receives the care they need and pays for only the services they need.
For instance, Couples Care at Highgate Senior Living allows couples to either live together in the same suite or be just a short walk away from each other, regardless of care needs.
“It’s super important that, wherever you’re looking, the couple can be there together but still have their individual needs met,” Todd says. “Perhaps your father is still fairly independent and doesn’t need a lot of help but your mom is becoming frailer, so she needs hands-on assistance. You want to make sure they can live together in the same community but still get those individual needs met.”
If you think it’s time to start the search for assisted living for one or both parents, here are five things you should know about couples and assisted living.
1. Yes, Couples Can Live Together in Assisted Living
Look for a senior living community that has assisted living and memory care on one campus or in one building. Because these communities offer higher levels of care, they often accommodate couples.
So if your mom has Alzheimer’s disease but your dad doesn’t, they can both move to an apartment in the assisted living community. This allows your mom to receive the caregiving support she needs — such as help with bathing and grooming — while both of your parents, and especially your dad, can take advantage of the community’s social life.
“We have so many independent residents that it kind of looks like a resort,” says LaTresh Walker, Healthcare Director at Highgate at Temecula sharing a story about a couple who live at her Highgate community. “The husband has flourished so much since he has been here. At home, he wasn’t able to go out to the store, go out to dinner, or do other things because he cared for his wife. On some days he’s up at six o’clock going to the store and on others he’s in our walking club. He knows that we will care for his wife while he’s still able to do what he can. He’s still very independent.”
In assisted living communities such as Highgate, once your mom’s needs exceed what the assisted living staff can accommodate — if she wanders frequently, for instance — she and your dad can both move to an apartment in the memory care neighborhood on the same property.
Or, if they choose, your dad could remain in the assisted living area while your mom moves to the memory care community. This distance usually amounts to a quick walk down a hallway or an elevator ride to a different floor.
At assisted living communities with programs like Couples Care, couples know that whatever happens, they can be together. Hu and Clara, for example, now share an assisted living apartment at Highgate at Bozeman.
2. It Still Might Not Be Easy on Your Parents
After moving to an assisted living community, some spouses enjoy “leaving it to the experts” — allowing the care partners to handle dressing, hygiene, and even nighttime necessities for the spouse in need.
“One of the things that can really change a relationship between a couple is when one becomes frail and the other steps into the caregiving role,” Todd says. “It changes the dynamic and challenges the relationship. So when you move into an assisted living community and turn over that care responsibility to the caregiving team, then you can go back to being spouses again — to spending time together again in ways that are meaningful to you as a couple.”
Other caregiving spouses prefer to remain as hands-on as possible with the care of their spouse.
“As spouses, we take care of each other,” Todd says. “Some people take a lot of pride in caring for their spouse, and it can be hard to have another person come and assist your spouse with the care that they need. It’s important to talk to your parents about that reality.”
3. A Respite Stay Might Make It Easier
If one of your parents is ready to make the move to an assisted living community but your other parent is resistant, encourage your parents to visit the community during mealtime or when it’s having a social event.
“That way, they feel a sense of connection to that community, which is really important,” Todd says. “You want your parents to be able to see the activity calendar and see that there are some things happening in that community that they, as individuals, love to do. When they look at the other residents who are in the dining room or in the pub or playing a game, can they see themselves fitting in with the people as they’re doing various activities throughout the community?”
Another way to give your parents an inside look at the assisted living community would be through a respite stay. “Offer to do a trial stay as a way to ease your parents into the transition,” Todd says. A 30-day trial run (i.e., respite stay) can be seen as a compromise, allowing your parents to maintain a sense of control while easing them into a more permanent senior living environment.
4. It’s Your Parent’s Decision
You can do a lot of the legwork to research assisted living communities that accommodate couples, but it’s critical that your parents are leading the decision-making process, Todd says.
“Often, good-intentioned adult children can overstep and take away that decision process for their parents, who are capable of giving their input, assessing their choices, and picking an environment that they want to be in,” she says.
“The most important thing when you’re looking for the right place is that you really consider the couple as a couple: What is their history?” Todd says. “It’s important to stay in tune with how they’re doing, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. What are the things that really delighted them in their life? What was important to them? And what brought them fulfillment or sense of purpose in their day? Those things have to continue in a senior living community. They have to continue to feel viable and valuable that they are contributing.”
5. No, The Cost Isn’t Double
One of the common misconceptions couples have about moving into an assisted living community together is that they’ll pay double the price, which isn’t the case. Typically, the cost of senior living is affected more by the level of care needed than by how many people are residing in the community.
Although fees vary from community to community, many offer a fee-for-service contract. This means that your monthly payment covers housing, residential services, and amenities, and only the resident who needs higher levels of care pays for those services.
If you’re curious about the Couples Care program at Highgate Senior Living, request more information or stop by the community nearest you for a tour.