Some decisions best made as a couple

Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare

  • May. 31, 2012 5:00 p.m.

Since I have ventured into a very direct relationship with the care of my aging parents, I have grown infinitely more sympathetic to the needs and challenges of the elderly.

In particular, I have come to realize that there is a segment of the elderly population, one which my mother has now joined, that is faced with life-altering circumstances and few reasonable options from which to choose.

This population is comprised largely, although not exclusively, of elderly women. The passing of their spouse leaves them alone, financially compromised, and often unable to maintain their own living accommodations.

Determined to stay in their home as long as they can, a couple may fail to consider what might happen should one of them pass away and the entire home is left to the care of the other.

The loss of a long-term spouse leaves an enormous void in the life of the survivor, but the need to relocate often makes that loss even more traumatic.

Now the feeling of loss is extended to both the long-term companionship of a loved one and the long-term comfort of a shared home.

It is all very disconcerting at a time of life when confusion is already a common state of mind.

Adding yet another dimension to this confusion, is consideration of the possible housing options for those who are still physically healthy and able to care for themselves. While living with children who have the ability to provide support is one option, not everyone is able to accommodate that and not every elderly parent wants to live with family for a whole host of reasons.

The challenge is to find living options that offer independence without isolation and personal monitoring without overt care.

Senior apartment complexes can offer the low maintenance, independent living quarters that offer someone an opportunity to look after themselves entirely. Those that provide some “common” resources (an activity centre or card room), and some social programming are the best options.  At this point in time, such facilities often have fairly long waiting lists and so timing is the greatest problem.

As for personal monitoring, daily check-ins by relatives, by phone or in person, and a back-up plan with someone locally should an emergency arise, allows for a routine to put everyone’s mind at ease.

Slowly but surely there are commercial services arising to provide support for families who live far from a parent who is alone. These services can provide both technical support (monitoring devices that make automatic phone calls if something happens), and personal support (workers who make regular visits to check in and sometimes provide an extra hand to help with non-medical needs).

In my mind, it is better to make the decision to downsize and find a suitable option for single-person living while you are still a couple and the comforts of a personal home can be established in this new setting before a crisis arises.

Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare. Email him at