Couples in Retirement Residences

The role of caregiver is one that often falls to women.  Although not everyone’s situation is the same, many senior women in Canada find themselves caring for their children, and then, once their children are grown, caring for their ailing spouse.

According to Statistics Canada, on July 1, 2013, 6,900 Canadians were 100 years of age or older, representing 20 centenarians per 100,000 persons. Of Canada’s centenarians, most were women (87.1%).

Couples in Retirement Residences

With the life expectancy rates in Canada higher for women, the scenario of a husband’s health failing and requiring care from his healthier wife is widespread.  

We talked to three couples, Tina and Bill, Finella and Trevor, and Bev and Ross about how they are tackling this imbalance.

The decision to leave their home of 55 years was a difficult one for Tina and Bill. “It’s not an easy step to take. Your children are born there; you have all your memories. But we are happy that we left,” she says. “When you get older, you have to change, like it or not.”

Due to Bill’s declining health, Tina has been hesitant to go out and socialize. “I won’t leave him too much alone,” she says.  With her husband in bad health, and suffering from health problems herself, Tina and Bill made the decision to move into The Royal Palisades.

Despite her worry over Bill, there is now peace of mind knowing that “we can always call someone and they are here to help…we call downstairs for the meals. I don’t have to do cooking, sometimes we do though, sometimes it’s nice to do your own cooking,” she says. “I still keep busy, we take care of each other and I still do our breakfast and lunch. I take care of my husband, and I read. I love reading.”

This spring, Tina and Bill will definitely miss their home, but they know they made the right choice. “My husband loved gardening, we had lots of plants and flower beds, that is something that we will miss, but life changes for everyone,” says Tina. “We were both ready. We knew we couldn’t handle our old house anymore,” she says.  “We’ve got each other, that for us, is the most important thing.”

Couples in Retirement Residences

In most areas in Canada, retirement communities have available spots for senior couples, even for those who are at different health and activity levels.  For these couples, when one partner needs more help than the other, it’s more important than ever to remain together. Retirement communities are ensuring this is possible, and are helping to relieve caregiver stress for the healthier partner.

Moving to a retirement community has helped relieve the burden of care for Bev, who is battling Parkinson’s disease alongside her husband Ross. “My husband is the worst, he has had Parkinson’s for 20 years. I was diagnosed about 5 years ago, so I’m okay, I can take care of him,” Bev says. “As our health declined we needed some help with meds, I was getting mixed up.”

The couple is now thriving at their retirement community. “They are in a better condition of health now, than when they moved in,” says Steve Pelkman, leasing manager at the Seasons Strathroy.

“When we first came in my husband and I needed different levels of care. I came in with a walker, but I don’t need that anymore,” Bev says.

For Bev and many other Canadian women who are caring for their spouses, the responsibilities can take a toll. Now, in a retirement community she doesn’t have to worry about keeping their medication straight, cooking dinner, changing their bed sheets, or cleaning their suites – it’s all taken care of for her. “It’s like a vacation. It is so comfortable and the people were so welcoming,” she says.

For retirement communities like the Seasons, it’s important to ensure that residents can still enjoy their passions and are active in the community. Pelkman says it was important to the staff to give Bev an outlet for her passion to garden – so she works with other residents to care for the plants around the community. “You’re always welcomed and encouraged,” Bev says.

“We try to look at the complications their situation might have in their day to day living and anticipate how we can overcome those complications so they can feel independent and they can treat their conditions with dignity,” Pelkman says. “Sometimes it is these simple things that make a difference in their daily life.”

Retirement communities are dedicated to helping couples overcome health complications, ensuring both partners benefit. For the partner dealing with an illness, there is greater access to medical care, with staff on-site should an emergency situation like a fall, heart attack, or other illness take place.

For the partner who is healthier, they enjoy greater independence and are able to socialize more – being able to leave their spouse without the guilt or worry that something may go wrong while they’re gone.

It was this worry that initially led Finella and Trevor to take advantage of respite care while she recuperated from her knee surgery. “My husband has mobility problems and I didn’t want to leave him alone in our house,” Finella recalls. “We discovered through a friend that Palisades offered respite care, and that my husband could move in with me while I was receiving bed side care. We were there together, which was fantastic.”

Impressed with the care they received at the Palisades on the Glen , Finella and Trevor moved to the retirement community permanently, a decision resulting in greater independence for Finella. “As far as I’m concerned, the wonderful thing is that I know if I want to go out, I can leave with the peace of mind knowing that if something happens, and he has a little fall or something, he has a button he can call to have the PSW [Personal Support Worker] come and help him,” she says. “So I always let the PSW’s know when I am going out and if they’re up they’ll even pop in and see him on our floor, but I go out with peace of mind, that’s the whole thing. I don’t have to worry about my husband when I go out.”

Retirement communities are helping relieve caregiver burden for senior couples, especially those requiring different levels of care. These communities are dedicated to providing each partner with the care they need. The surprising outcomes are that couples experience greater ease of mind, independence, and a new lease on life. 

For Tina and Bill, Bev and Ross, and Finella and Trevor, remaining together while facing the changes and challenges of this stage of their lives  has been the most important factor to their health, happiness and independence.  

Written by Kimberley Fowler, Comfort Life

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