Maintaining relationships and social connections are vitally important as we grow older – they improve quality of life, and prevent older people from becoming socially isolated.

For married couples, being able to live together is a huge advantage, and yet all too often it is not possible, especially when the time comes to move into residential aged care.

Some facilities do not have rooms for couples, and sometimes a couple’s care requirements differ to such a degree they have to separate in order that each receives the individual care they need.

These separations can be hugely stressful and upsetting, not only for the couple but also for family.

New standards: residents must be able to maintain relationships

The new Aged Care Quality Standards, which have been developed to put the consumer at the centre of care, require that residents should be able to maintain relationships.

One facility has taken the step of providing couples suites to allow spouses to stay together when they move into aged care.

Bella Vista Gardens, in Sydney’s Norwest, has found the rooms have been overwhelmingly popular.

“There is nothing more distressing to both older people and their families than the thought of parents being separated once they have made the decision to move into aged care,” said Kerry Mann, CEO of Cranbrook Care, the operator of Bella Vista Gardens. 

Separating couples, who might have been married for more than half a century, can make the difficult decision to move into aged care more upsetting, and can delay the decision for longer than necessary.

Preventing social isolation

Making sure that aged care residents who are still married have access to their spouse, family and friends, is crucial in preventing loneliness, which becomes more common as people age.

“Elderly couples rely on each other for companionship, so an unforeseen separation can be devastating for those who have spent decades being together,” Ms Mann said.

Being separated from a spouse is a key source of social isolation, researchers say. Loneliness has been shown to be as detrimental to health as both smoking and obesity.

Matteo and Domenica’s story

Matteo and Domenica Regoli grew up in a small village in Italy in homes 20 metres apart. They married in Italy in September 1958, and in April the following year, moved to Australia.

Now both in their 90s, the couple has been married for more than 60 years.

Eighteen months ago, Matteo and Domenica decided to make the move into residential aged care. A friend who lives at Cranbrook Residences, which is next door to Bella Vista Gardens, told them about couples suites.

The couple went to take a look, and decided this was the best option for them.

“We’ve been married for over 60 years, so we wanted to live together,” they wrote to HelloCare in an email. “After being together for so long you don’t want to be apart.”

“Our couples suite at Bella Vista Gardens is our home, just like the homes we have had together over the last 60 years. 

“Just because we are in aged care doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be living together. We feel that it has been a huge benefit for us as a couple to be able to remain together in our suite,” they wrote.

Still making friends in their 90s

The couple enjoy taking part in all the activities at Bella Vista Gardens, especially bingo – and  are still making new friends even in their nineties!

“Bella Vista Gardens gives us the opportunity to stay busy and meet other people,” they said. “One of the things we enjoy most is being able to spend time with the new friends we have made.” 

They “definitely” recommend that more aged care facilities provide accommodation for couples, and they say the suites were one of the main reasons they chose to move to Bella Vista Gardens.

“We love the fact that we have been able to stay together at Bella Vista Gardens. After being married for over six decades, we would have hated to have been separated once we made the decision to move into aged care.

Image: Matteo and Domenica Regoli, supplied.

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