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Marriage and Aging
Cathy Sears, Law Clerk

My husband and I got married in August and are still in the obnoxiously happy, rarely-spend-time-apart-from-each-other phase of our relationship. Life as a newlywed is good.

With marriage so much on my mind in recent months, I was surprised when I recently realized that I had never really thought about accommodations for married couples in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Yes, I know what I got myself into when I vowed to love my husband “all the days of my life,” but I hadn’t really thought about where our later days might be spent. Cancer and divorce kept me from growing up with a “complete” set of grandparents, so I’ve really only been exposed to the challenges of aging alone, not as a couple. Additionally, in my Elder Law classes in law school, I’ve learned about Medicaid planning techniques that are utilized when one spouse needs facility-based care and the other spouse is still able to live at home. Here too, the assumption is that circumstances will result in the couple living apart from each other.

Obviously, that’s not exactly the scenario that I’d like for my hubby and me. Granted, I’m sure someday we’ll relish spending time away from each other. Even now, I recognize – in theory – that it made little sense for both of us to bundle up and brave frigid January weather to buy a few groceries when one of us could have stayed cozily at home. Still, call me naïve, but I can’t help but think that, despite his snoring, I’ll always want to live with him!

Fortunately, I’m not the only helpless romantic who feels this way. I recently visited a few local assisted living facilities as part of my job and learned more about accommodations that can be made for married couples who seek facility care together. For example, a facility may offer rooms spacious enough to fit a double bed and two dressers, and it may use a specially-tailored billing structure for a couple instead of simply doubling the fees for a single resident. Many facilities also offer a variety of different care options, ranging from independent living or assisted living all the way up to skilled nursing care and memory care, which allows spouses who may have very different diagnoses to continue living together as long as possible.

One marketing director told me about a couple who recently celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary in their assisted living facility, complete with a private candle-lit dinner that the staff arranged for them. Another resident and her husband had been living in the community together until he passed away. At this difficult time, she was surrounded by people she knew – many of whom had also experienced a similar loss – who served as a great support system for her and helped keep her from being too lonely in her time of mourning.

The moral of the story? You may be stuck with me longer than you bargained for, hubby dear.