Making the decision to move your spouse to an assisted living community can be incredibly difficult, especially if that move does not include you. Some common emotional challenges include accepting the reality that their care needs are beyond your ability to manage at home, coming to terms with your spouse’s declining health and in some cases coping with the fact that you can no longer live with the person you love.
While moving your spouse into an assisted living community may feel like too much emotionally, many family caregivers underestimate the immense stress they are under to provide 24-hour care to their loved one. An assisted living community is often the safest decision for the welfare of both spouses.
Caring for a Spouse
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the average age of a spousal caregiver is 62.3 years old – and of those individuals providing care for their senior spouse, one-third report being in fair to poor health themselves.
The amount of care hours spouses provide is also quite staggering: spouses spend on average 44.6 hours per week performing caregiving tasks.
With less availability and time to be active, eat well, rest and be social, it is not uncommon for the “healthy” spouse to quickly deteriorate. Mental health issues such as anxiety, chronic depression and stress are commonly faced by spousal caregivers, as well as feelings of grief, guilt and inadequacy. Caregiver burnout and stress are very real conditions, and many spouses who assume the role of caregiver for their loved one are eventually faced with the reality that they can no longer provide adequate care at home and must consider an alternative situation.
Tips for a Smooth Transition Into Assisted Living
Upon making the decision to move your spouse into an assisted living community, Psychology Today offers three tips to help you and your spouse through the transition:
- Choose an assisted living community that is progressive and supports the unification of couples. Although you may not be living together, you and your spouse should be able to enjoy meals and spend quality time together. Many communities offer non-restrictive visiting hours, which help to facilitate rather than hinder your continued relationship.
- Involve your spouse in decisions about his or her future. As much as possible, include your spouse in the decision making and ask what they want. Offering choices – even if they seem trivial – will help your spouse have ownership and independence in their new living situation.
- Make your spouse’s new space feel homey and familiar. Most facilities will let you hang pictures, paint walls and display important possessions from home.
One unexpected result of moving your spouse to an assisted living community is the peace of mind and reassurance you will feel knowing they are receiving proper care from professional caregivers. In an article published by Michigan Health, Tamara Real, founder of the Rinne Lewy Body Dementia Initiative and caregiver for her late spouse, describes her experience:
“Although it broke my heart and it wasn’t an easy decision, moving Carl into assisted living was the right decision for both of us.”
Real was no longer exhausted from the physical and emotional burden of caring for her husband at home and discovered she could just “be with Carl” and love him. Real learned to experience moments of “true joy” with her spouse, without the burden of providing 24-hour care: “just being present with the love of my life was fulfilling,” Real says. “When I was overwhelmed with his physical care, I wasn’t able to appreciate the little moments such as just sitting and holding hands or seeing the sparkle in his eyes when a friend came to visit… I was still Carl’s primary caretaker, but I could focus on bigger issues than getting him dressed each day.”
By allowing others to step into the role of caregiver, spouses are able to reclaim their role of husband, wife or partner. Also, spouses are able to shift their focus to ensure their loved one is happy, healthy and safe, and advocating on their behalf.
Oftentimes when a spouse is moved to an assisted living facility it is the first time in many decades of marriage that the couple is separated. Feelings of guilt, regret and deep sadness are natural and normal responses to this separation and the spouse remaining at home should seek support from understanding friends, family or professionals.
The move to an assisted living community will present a number of emotional challenges for both spouses, but there are supports in place to help. Knowing these challenges are ahead will help you better prepare to overcome them.
During the process, remind yourself that the end result will be safety, security and better care for you both.
Have you or your spouse moved to an assisted living community? Do you have any tips that helped you cope with the separation? Please share your experience in the comments below.