Seniors in assisted living facilities benefit from intimate and social relationships. The study examined relationships among couples living in assisted living and found that later-life couplehood or companionship – regardless of marriage status – could benefit seniors’ well-being. On the other hand, there were some detrimental outcomes including feeling the burden of caring for the other, feeling as if they have limited choices, and being defined by one’s spouse.
The study uncovered that intimate relationships aren’t the only type of relationship seniors need. They also require extended social ties, too. Fellow residents were found to provide important support to couples and individuals and help shield against negative health outcomes.
Researcher Dr. Candace Kemp explained, “These are important relationships and to the extent that they can be supported have really significant implications for well-being and quality of life for older adults. In some cases, particularly with the married couples, these are marriages that are 60 and 70 years in the making, and to separate people and not facilitate them aging in place together can be problematic.”
Couples do not experience health decline at the same rate. If one person in the couple develops cognitive impairments or dementia they may be separated from their spouse remaining in the assisted living facility.
Dr. Kemp added, “I think doing work in this setting is important and it’s quite possible with people living longer that there will be more couples in these situations, whether they’re married or unmarried. We certainly know very little about unmarried couples in later life.”
“The nice thing about these communal settings is there are a lot of widowed, divorced and never married people, and there is potentially opportunity to develop relationships. It makes a huge difference in the quality of life and the day-to-day life experience to have that intimate connection with somebody else. These were probably unexpected relationships for the unmarried couples, but very fulfilling relationships for those who manage to find a partner,” Dr. Kemp continued.
The researchers recommend strategies to support couples in assisted living, focusing on the needs of individuals and couples.
Dr. Kemp concluded, “There are some scenarios, particularly if the caregiving spouse is doing so much work and worrying so much, that they can compromise their health by trying to do more than they’re able to do. I think it’s finding that balance between what’s best for both the individual and the couple and sometimes those are in conflict.”