- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

Seniors who find themselves living on their own because their spouses are in nursing homes often find few services and programs designed specifically for them because many elder care services are geared toward helping the ill or disabled stay in their homes as long as possible.

There aren't a lot of specialized programs just for the spouse still at home, says Marilyn Huddell, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Area Agency on Aging.

"We do things like provide home-delivered meals, and that could be for [a spouse] who's left behind but isn't sufficiently disabled enough to go to a nursing home," she says. "We might be able to help that person stay in his home with insurance questions they would have. We could probably help them with looking at their medical bills to make sure if they have any questions about what the bills are saying, that they're not paying twice."

Some senior service organizations, such as Iona Senior Services in the District, offer an adult day care center that is used frequently by married seniors living alone.

"We try to keep people out of an institutionalized setting as long as possible," says Louise Myers, executive director at Iona. "Our adult day care health center is very popular. It gives the adult caregiver a break whether their spouse is living with them or not."

Robert Greenwood, a spokesman with the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, says more married seniors living alone seem to be using adult day care services, and Ms. Myers says she suspects the same, although she doesn't have data to confirm it.

"As the population ages, this is increasingly going to be an issue," Ms. Myers says. "People who are developing assisted-living housing are taking a look at couples moving in and how do you handle moving a couple into assisted living where two people are at very different stages and ages. That's a real problem."

Mr. Greenwood says with health care costs continuing to spiral upward, the problem of married seniors living alone may have to be answered partially by the private sector.

"Community-based solutions is where the cutting edge is," he says. "There are probably a lot of people who are thinking about how to help with this problem right now."

For now, Ms. Huddell says seniors need to be thinking about their long-term futures even if they don't envision ever living apart.

"The more that's written about these situations, the better," she says. "People are, I hope, preparing. It's very important. People need to start planning carefully for their own old age. It's something a lot of people never think about."

Fortunately, federal "spousal impoverishment" laws safeguard seniors living at home from being bankrupted by nursing-home or long-term health care costs.

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