Everyone knows that one, special elderly couple, who although up there in years, is still managing to keep it together. Perhaps they are leaning on their neighbors, just a bit, in between visits from their children and/or going to the local senior center. They still shop together- watch TV together – go to the doctor together. It’s all a little more tenuous, but intact, nevertheless.
And then, one day, you realize you haven’t seen the wife for a while, just the husband coming and going. Finally, when you do get a glimpse of her you can tell she has become much frailer. Her movements are slow and unsteady. The husband stays close to his wife’s side, at the ready, to keep her safe. He has become the caregiver since he is considered the “healthier” of the two, despite his own aging and frailty. It’s a struggle, but he will do all in his power to take care of his wife and keep her at home because he loves her and they both want to maintain their decades-long routine.
Unfortunately, in time, the wife’s health deteriorates further and it becomes clear that she needs more help than what her husband can provide. What are the options? How can they stay together and yet have each one’s different level of need met?
Well, there are actually communities that cater to this exact scenario. Known as Continuums of Care, they offer senior housing, healthcare programs and facilities, all on the same grounds so that a simple stroll across the campus, or the continuum’s shuttle bus, can bring a couple face to face quite easily each day!
The possibilities of mixing and matching programs and services are flexible – Whether it starts with a home care nurse coming into the couple’s home to assist, or both of them moving into an independent senior residence where meals and housekeeping are offered and the spouse in need can go to the adult day program for clinical assessment and social interaction each day, or the couple moves to an assisted senior living residence where they can both receive extra cares based on their individual needs, or one transitions into a skilled nursing facility while the other lives in the senior housing and visits each day, there are numerous such solutions in place to help couples age together, albeit at different levels.
It is also a healthy solution for the caregiver! Instead of being 100% responsible for the daily needs of their ailing spouse and themselves, they can let the trained staff and medical professionals provide the care while they engage in less stressful interaction such as smoothing blankets, sitting down together to enjoy their served meals, watching TV, chatting and/or just spending quality time together.
In fact, a study published by a team from the University of South Florida and the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that high care-giving strain among spouses increased the risk of strokes by 23 percent; the association was particularly strong among husbands caring for wives. Also, another study shows that caregivers of all ages reported chronic conditions — including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis — at nearly twice the rate of non-caregivers, 45 percent vs. 24 percent. In fact, more than one in 10 (11%) of family caregivers report that care giving has caused their physical health to deteriorate.
The opportunity, then, to have a loved one be taken care of in any one of the above settings is advantageous to both spouses. In time, as the caregiver restructures their life to include living/visiting/and/or caring for their loved on a less intensive level, they can begin to relax and enjoy the quality, stress-free time they can now spend with their spouse.
For more information on how to access such a community, please call Bethel Homes & Services at 914-739-6700. We would be happy to share information about our Couples Program and/or be a resource to direct you elsewhere, accordingly.