elderly couple

Elderly Couples In Assisted Living Still Need Intimate and Social Relationships

Researchers have found that both intimate and social relationships are important for adults in assisted-living facilities.

In a study conducted at Georgia State University, inivestigators found that the benefits of late-life couplehood include companionship, support and affection. But there were some detrimental factors as well, including feeling the burden of caregiving, feeling defined by one’s partner and having limited choices.

Additionally, coupled residents in assisted living, because of frailty, could not always rely on each other for physical support. Fellow residents may prove to be important confidantes, companions and friends to coupled residents in assisted living, and they can help shield against negative health outcomes associated with marital transitions, such as when a spouse is ill or dies.

The findings, published in the journal The Gerontologist, demonstrate the complexity and range of later-life couples’ intimate and social lives.

“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,” said Dr. Candace Kemp, associate professor in the Gerontology Institute and Department of Sociology at Georgia State . “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 usually don’t experience health declines at the same rate. If a husband or wife suffers from cognitive impairment, the assisted-living facility might suggest moving the person to a dementia care unit and leaving his or her spouse on the assisted-living side, which separates the couple, Kemp said.

“I think doing work in this setting is important,” Kemp said, “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.”

Intimate relationships have a profound effect on older adults’ health, well-being and daily lives, but research has not explored the complexity of later-life couples’ daily lives and experiences, particularly in the contexts of advanced age, health decline and long-term care settings such as assisted living. Older adults typically move to assisted living because of health decline, shifting dependence patterns and an inability or reluctance to maintain their former residence. Couples are now a minority in assisted living, but they may become more common as the population ages.