Commander Brian Boxall-Hunt, CEO at maritime charity the Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society, discusses why tailored support provided to elderly couples in care is so integral to their wellbeing
Moving into a care home setting and accepting that additional support may be needed is a huge decision. This is often made more difficult when there is a long-term spouse or partner to consider. For many that have shared most of their lives together, the desire to remain together in care is natural.
Traditionally, it has often been difficult to support couples with different needs and while every effort is usually made to keep partners together, sometimes they can end up living apart in their later years so the level of care and support needed for both is maintained. However, in the UK, 63% of adults aged 52 or over who have been widowed, and 51% of the same group who are separated, report feeling lonely, highlighting the importance of personalised care strategies for couples to combat isolation and support wellbeing.
Here we share some of our experiences of helping couples that have enabled us to promote a good quality of life.
Coupling partner care with individual needs
More often than not, requirements differ later in life, yet this doesn’t mean partners need to be separated. Recognising this, as a deliberate strategy at our care home, Belvedere House in Banstead, we offer shared rooms for couples but when this can’t be achieved, we ensure they remain close by.
For example, our dementia annexe, which caters for 36 people, provides a dedicated area where residents receive expert care suited to their needs, yet this is joined on to the rest of the house, limiting the sense of detachment between couples. This ensures residents can maintain relationships as they would at home.
We have five couples living with us on our Weston Acres estate who have been with us from a few months to 16 years, in the case of our resident and tenant Captain and Mrs Graham. One of our couples reside together in shared rooms and the remaining eight are a combination of residents and tenants, the latter living in our 22-unit sheltered housing facility on site. This allows for tenants, who do not require round the clock care, to still live independently on site, with a sense of community on their doorstep, and most importantly, the ability to spend as much time as possible with their loved ones.
One of our key values is providing dignified and compassionate care, achieved in part by offering couples privacy when they desire it. By personalising care services, being mindful of gender, culture, religion and relationships, we build trusting relationships between staff and residents, reinforcing the care home setting as comfortable and intimate when needed.
Care following bereavement
The additional benefits of such care mean distress is minimised should a resident pass away. When this does occur, the other member of a couple is readily supported by care home staff who will already know them well. This helps to combat loneliness and feelings of isolation that can follow a bereavement by remaining in a familiar, community setting surrounded by people able to offer support.
All in all, moving into care does not mean that longstanding relationships need to be disrupted; in fact, quite the opposite if the Home provider is flexible. Options such as shared living not only provide tailored support required of care staff, but a comfortable living environment. In the situations where this is not possible, it’s imperative to personalise care to couples with different needs and to provide a supportive and compassionate environment for all.