How to Support Parents Who Find Love in Senior Living
A common myth about senior living communities is that people who live there are at the end of their lives. That notion couldn’t be further from the truth at United Hebrew of New Rochelle, where social opportunities empower residents to live their lives with purpose and joy well into their golden years. In fact, many residents develop significant relationships with new companions, close friends, and romantic partners.
While finding love later in life is a wonderful thing for residents of adult facilities or nursing homes, it can be hard on their adult children, notes Nora O’Brien, DPT, executive director of Willow Gardens Memory Care and Willow Towers Assisted Living. “Sometimes those attachments can cause discomfort for families.”
Live longer with love
Helping your parents to remain healthy and vibrant is among the top reasons to show your support for Mom or Dad’s new relationship, according to Dr. O’Brien.
“Research shows that socially connected older adults remain healthier and live longer,” she says. “We all want to connect with someone who treats us with love and tenderness, and with whom we may enjoy physical intimacy. These desires stay with us throughout our lives, even in old age. So, curbing displeasure and showing support for your parent’s new romantic interest demonstrates that you care about her remaining active and socially connected.”
Senior living facilities, which typically have active recreational, social, and cultural activity programs, are especially equipped to help older adults make new connections.
For example, when 92-year-old Jerry moved into Willow Towers, his warm personality and bright smile attracted many women. Marie, an 86-year old widow who had lived at Willow Towers for four years, was immediately smitten. The two attended musical performances held at the facility, and enjoyed meals together through Willow Tower’s “dining out” program at local restaurants. As their relationship deepened, they shared intellectual conversations, romantic love, and a physical relationship. They each enjoyed the support of their families, who embraced their new status as a couple.
“It’s never too late to cultivate new friendships or romantic interests,” says Dr. O’Brien.
But, There Are Some challenges
Among the concerns adult children may have about their parent finding love in senior living is difficulty seeing Mom or Dad with a new partner. They may feel this is not the parent they know.
“Some adult children might worry about their parents being vulnerable. They also may not view their parent as a sexual being. But it is important to remember that a healthy sex life can be an important part of staying active and engaged with life,” says Dr. O’Brien.
Sexuality is assisted living facilities may be also be challenged by physical limitations, cognitive deficits, and lack of staff education, let alone the concerns of adult children. At Willow Towers, staff members play a role in facilitating healthy relationships by:
- Promoting privacy in resident rooms
- Providing staff education regarding sexuality in the elderly
- Giving residents education for safe and comfortable communication regarding sexual health
- Helping family members accept their loved one’s desires.
Adult children should consult with the senior living facility management if they have concerns. “Fears may be justified, especially if their parent has dementia or another cognitive impairment,” says Dr. O’Brien. “If that is the case, our role is to help determine if the senior adult is to give consent. If not, the family and staff of that adult living in assisted living must keep the person safe and free from harm.”
Adult children may also be concerned that the new partner is trying to receive a financial benefit from the parent. “Our recommendation to adult children is to have an open and honest conversation with the parent about fiscal protection,” advises Dr. O’Brien. “They also might consider seeking outside help.”