By Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, R.N., B.S.N., Attorney
When it comes to elders, most of us don’t think of romance. For some reason, our culture seems to entirely dismiss the concept that older people, divorced or widowed, might fall in love again. But they do. Ask anyone who works in a senior community, assisted living, or other kind of elder-focused living group. Romance blossoms there, as spontaneously and intensely as anywhere else. Our bodies may age, but our emotions are ageless.
Put a group of men and women together in the same place, and over time, attractions will form, relationships will grow and romance may thrive. And how do their adult children react to this? Sometimes, they are supportive and even pleased that Granny has found a new man. She won’t be lonely anymore. But not surprisingly, there is often outright resistance to elder romance in senior communities, coming from the kids.
They’re worried about one thing: their potential inheritance. Demands that the elders stop, interference, and other punitive actions are brought on by the adult children. Do they have a right to stop Granny from consorting with her new guy? Probably not. Unless Granny is mentally incompetent and someone is taking advantage of her impaired mind, she has the legal right to keep company with anyone she pleases. After all, this is a free country, even in a retirement community or a nursing home.
The legal issue is an interesting one. Elders do decline with age, and sometimes mental capacity to give consent to anything, particularly romance, is not entirely clear. However, despite elder care facilities’ focus on “elder rights” no bill of resident rights posted on the wall is likely to say “you have the right to be romantic if you feel like it, provided you can find a willing partner”. Assuming two competent and consenting elders choose to have a romance, should anyone stop them?
When I was a young nurse’s aide in a nursing home, I remember wheeling an elderly lady to the dining room for lunch my first day on the job. “No, not there!” she insisted, as I tried to put her at an empty table. She showed me just where she had to sit, at a different table. The reason became clear a moment later. Her guy, also in a wheelchair, was wheeled over next to her, and the two proceeded to hold hands.
“There’s no one I’d rather sit next to than you,” he said loudly, as he was hard of hearing. She responded, flirting, and demurely returned the comment. She was hard of hearing, too, so their conversation was overheard by everyone nearby. The flirtation continued every day. He told her she was so good looking. I thought it was a crack-up, and also very sweet. They each had someone to look forward to seeing at mealtime and their lives were a little brighter. Elder romance? Why not?