How to Support Parents Who Find Love Later in Life
Residents of senior living communities are often pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is to make new friends and develop new relationships after they settle in to their new home. Sometimes, those relationships become significant, even romantic. This is welcome news for seniors who find love later in life. Their adult children may feel differently.
It’s natural for adult children to have concerns when Mom or Dad begins to date, says Dr. Nora O’Brien, executive director of Willow Towers Assisted Living. “Sometimes, the thought of a parent in a new relationship is hurtful. But being socially connected helps your parents to remain healthy and vibrant. For that reason, it makes sense to show your support for Mom or Dad’s new relationship.”
Love longer, live longer
“Research shows that socially connected older adults remain healthier and live longer,” notes Dr. O’Brien. “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 communities such as Willow Towers generally have robust social, recreational, physical and cultural activity programs, which facilitate new connections among the older adult residents.
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.
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.”