Many people assume that for elderly couples the death of a spouse is an inevitable and heart-wrenching experience, and they would be correct.
However, separation from one another because one of the partners requires a greater level care than the other is almost as keenly painful.
“Sadly, this scenario is more common than one might think,” Dave Singleton wrote in a recent piece on the website Caring.com. “After decades of living together, one parent needs more care than the other can provide. It’s not only hard on the parents; it’s a devastating situation for children and loved ones, too. You want to help, but you feel helpless in the face of what amounts to a forced separation.”
Based on conversations with two experts in the field of eldercare, Singleton offered some tips on ways to reduce the trauma of such a separation.
- Determine in advance how the relationship will continue.
“Before anyone makes a move, encourage your parents to map out how the marital bond will carry on,” Mary Koffend, president of Accountable Aging Care Management, was quoted as saying.
- Ensure that the facility supports the couple.
“The key is to promote the couple’s identity as a couple as much as possible, or desirable, for both partners,” Cheryl Woodson, author of ‘To Survive Caregiving: A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice,’ told Singleton. “Make sure the facility is convenient for the healthy partner in terms of transportation, access, and schedule.”
- Help your parent with feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
“A parent might feel like he’s no longer honoring his wedding vows, or that he isn’t doing enough,” Koffend said.
- Get your parents outside help if needed.
“No matter how cooperative the facility is, no one can understand how bereft these couples may feel,” Woodson was quoted as saying. “Families should encourage the healthy partner to talk to clergy, behavioral health professionals, and/or to participate in support groups with other spouses in similar circumstances.”
- Help foster private time, if desired.
“For example, if a spouse can’t leave the facility for whatever reason, kids can step in and have a very straightforward conversation with the facility’s administrators about arranging alone-time for the couple,” Koffend told the Caring.com writer.
- Expect the unexpected.
“Don’t assume that this transition ends once the initial decision and move are over,” Koffend advised. “Be prepared for whatever your parents’ needs are afterward, when there’s sadness or frustration on either side. Help your parent realize they have a practical role in the care and upkeep of their spouse who’s now living in a new place.
“It gives purpose to the visits, even if it’s as simple as bringing a few products and a hairbrush to help maintain physical appearance.”