Co-habitation is on the rise in America, especially for older Americans. Baby Boomers are more frequently living together (and many of them are choosing not to marry) in their older age than in previous years, according to The New York Times. This fact brings an interesting point: how does the aging process—an oft-complex and obstacle-ridden procedure—affect seniors sleeping together? What is best for a senior—a separate home, a separate bedroom, a separate bed, or a completely shared space?
The first and most important consideration is privacy. Does a particular senior need privacy or prefer companionship? Is the senior more comfortable with a spouse or significant other sharing space, particularly bed space? What boundaries are important to maintain for health? Many seniors who have been couples for many years choose not to share a bed or bedroom any longer. This may be because health issues cause sleep disturbances in one partner, which in turn disturb the sleep of the other partner. Separate sleeping quarters may be required because comfortable sleeping now requires more room to position limbs or to have access to medical equipment.
Emotionally speaking, it might be more traumatic for a long-cohabitating couple (for example, two seniors who have been married for many years) to separate than to stay together, sleep disturbances or medical issues notwithstanding. The emotional, mental, social, and general happiness boosts they give one another may well outweigh any physical health concerns. What is more, one may serve as an alarm for the other. A middle of the night incident of not being able to breathe or experiencing sharp chest pains or feeling too dizzy to make it to the bathroom unaided may make one’s sleeping partner a lifesaver when it comes to having someone on hand to offer assistance or to call 911 immediately.
Yet if one senior requires more physical space for sleeping, finding a large-enough and comfortable-enough bed for two seniors may prohibit co-sleeping. There should also be a frank discussion (perhaps through a doctor) about sexual interactions and health; some seniors are simply not healthy enough for sexual activity, or should be especially careful if they choose to have sex, due to a heart condition, physical disability, or other concern. Other seniors may find this aspect of their lives together continues to be rewarding and reaffirming and poses no health hazards.
It is also possible to share a bedroom but have separate beds…
Many seniors find that living together makes life cheaper, and sharing a bedroom rather than having separate ones certainly saves space and possibly rent. It is also possible to share a bedroom but have separate beds, enjoying the best of both worlds.
At the same time, seniors who meet late in life and who decide they want to live and sleep together may find themselves negatively impacted if they choose to marry. Marriage often means combining assets, changing wills, and complicating tax filings. Some seniors could lose survivor’s benefits or Social Security benefits, depending on the tax code. However, when it comes to a serious illness or hospice care, seniors may also want a spouse who has legal access to medical records, who can make decisions in the case of one partner becoming incapable of making them, and who will always be allowed to visit at a hospital. Marriage is an important part of making that a reality. However, married seniors, whether they are new to one another or have been together for many years, do not legally have to share a bedroom or a bed, so the option of physical separation at night is still available for seniors who want or need their privacy and space yet who want to share life and a living situation.
Partners may disagree about whether to sleep in the same bed or bedroom. This may lead to friction. Discussion that are sensitive to the needs and wants of each are important. Also, the way may be eased to a changed sleeping arrangement if more time is spent in the current arrangement, as opposed to implementing swift changes. Gradual changes—a partner sleeping in another room several nights a week at first—may work better than an all-or-nothing-at-all approach. Planning for a change far ahead of time will yield more positive results, since all parties will have time to think and prepare for the change of sleeping arrangements.
Brenoff, A. (June 18, 2012). Living Together Is Different When You’re Older. Huffington Post. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/living-together_b_1431235.html. Retrieved April 28, 2016.
Luxenberg, S. (April 25, 2014). Welcoming Love at an Older Age, but Not Necessarily Marriage. The New York Times Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/26/your-money/welcoming-love-at-an-older-age-but-not-necessarily-marriage.html?_r=0. Retrieved April 28, 2016.