How to Keep Elderly Couples Together as They Age

Happy Senior couple sitting outdoors

There has been a lot recently in the media about aging couples being separated when one or both spouses need high level care.  This is a situation that none of us want to see our loved ones in.  However, since we have seen this happen all too often, I thought I would dedicate our next blog post to sharing some advice for what to do in advance, and how to react accordingly, in order to keep elderly couples together as they age and as their care needs diverge.

It shouldn’t be surprising that most spouses do not age the same way and pace. Often one person’s care needs escalate to the point where the other spouse becomes the primary caregiver.  As the care needs of the two seniors diverge, more challenges arise around getting additional help, ensuring that the living environment is still suitable, and making sure the primary caregiver does not burn out.  Here are some pointers to keep in mind to help families during these challenging times.

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead involves simply starting the conversation early.  As an adult child caring for aging parents, do you know what your mom and dad’s wishes are, and do you really understand their current challenges and care needs?  By starting the conversation before crisis occurs, you will allow the family to have ample time to have multiple conversations and have all interested parties voice their opinions and concerns.  Don’t expect that decisions will be made overnight, or that all family members will agree on what the ideal situation should be.  Big decisions take time.

Financial and legal affairs also require some advance planning Knowing what mom and dad can afford to spend will impact the route eventually chosen between accessing private vs. public care services.  If mom or dad’s cognitive abilities are starting to decline, ask yourselves whether the time is right to establish a power of attorney, or at least consult a lawyer about it.  Having a power of attorney in place can make a world of difference in helping mom and dad facilitate solutions to stay together when mental capacities start to diminish.

Be Proactive

Engage professional home care to provide assistance in the home.  While your parents may be resistant at first, home care can go a long way in helping couples stay living at home for as long as possible.  For many people however, there comes a point when it is the right time to downsize and move to a different living environment.  Being proactive and making the move before it is necessary, while it may seem counter-intuitive, will actually help seniors be able to enjoy the more independent retirement lifestyle and defer the need for higher level care, thereby allowing mom and dad to stay living together.

Educate Yourself

The amount of information out there can be overwhelming , but here are some key things to get you started. Before you have that first conversation with your parent about the future, equip yourself with some basic information so that you can answer their questions and know how you want to direct the conversation.  Ask yourself what it is that you would like them to explore and do some advance research about that topic.  For example, if you would like your parents to accept home care, look into the services and resources both in the public and private sector aimed at helping seniors age in place at home.

For those whose parents may need to move into a retirement residence, you may want to obtain some basic information about the different levels of care offered in seniors housing.  For couples whose care needs are very different, consider a retirement community that is a campus of care, which includes all the different levels of care so that each spouse can receive the attention they need.  While the two spouses may not be able to share the same suite, at least they can be in the same community and see each other daily.

Be an Advocate

Healthcare navigation can be very frustrating.  However, despite the steep learning curve, long wait times, and scarcity of services, being an advocate for your parent within the healthcare system can result in a substantially better outcome than if they didn’t have anyone representing them.  For example, if they are going to be moving into a subsidized assisted living or care residence, do some research in advance so that you can advocate for which ones they would prefer.  Although you do not have the power to make the final selection in the placement process, at least knowing what the top choices are will allow you to have a more meaningful conversation with the case worker and increase the chances that you will achieve a favourable outcome.

For a personal consultation to discuss this topic further and how we can help your family keep loved ones together as they age, contact us at or call us at 604-739-8080.  We are here to help!