Your aging parent cares for a spouse who suffers from a chronic illness. You suppose that the “strong healthy” one will outlive the one who needs care.
Not always true. Just this week at Evergreen Court Retirement Community, where I work, one of our most vibrant residents died following a stroke. Her name was June. She cared for her husband, who suffers from dementia. Last May, with the blessing of their adult children, the couple moved to Evergreen Court primarily to simplify her life. Without cooking, cleaning and other chores, she could focus on caring for John.
The family assumed June would survive her husband by many years. That’s not how life played out.
Research has shown that the stress of caring for a spouse with a disabling illness can shorten the life of the caregiving spouse. Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a Harvard Medical School physician and sociologist, came to this conclusion in a study published in February, 2006, in the American Sociological Review.
With 518,240 couples aged 65 and older, the study found that the causes of excess death in the caregiving spouse included accidents, heart attacks, lung disease and diabetes.
What will happen to John? Residents and staff in our community have showered him with love and will continue to do so. We’ve met with family members to discuss future options. In John’s case, bringing home care into his current apartment wouldn’t work because he needs direction and guidance around the clock.
The family chose an apartment in our assisted living. He’ll move in two weeks. By staying in the same community but in a different area, he’ll still enjoy his favorite things: chatting with others over a meal in the dining room, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper in the lobby. But assisted living staff will offer the support he’ll need to process his grief in his own way.
When things work right, retirement communities can help make difficult times better for caregiving couples.
Do you have an experience with an aging parent who cares for a spouse? What support have they found that works?