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New Research Study into Coupledom in Later Life

As we celebrate the International Day of Older People on October 1st, researchers at The Open University are embarking on a study into one of the major worries for older couples- becoming separated if one of them has to go into a care home.

The study, titled ‘Coupledom in later life: living together and apart’, looks at the impact of separation on health and wellbeing and how such couples cope with the reality of not living with their partner, including practical considerations and mental health issues.

Emerging Area of Research

Couple relationships in later life is an emerging area of research – not least in thinking about caregiving and receiving when one partner has dementia. So far little attention has been given to the situation of these highly complex relationships that are lived out across different residential environments and there is little public data on the marital/partnership status of residents in care homes. Lead researcher, Dr Manik Gopinath elaborates:

“This contributes to the ‘invisibility’ of married residents and their spouses in policy, practice and research. Their needs and aspirations are likely to be different from couples living together in their own homes, and different from single or widowed older adults who live in care homes.

Our study aims to contribute to the growing body of work on later life as well as inform wider ongoing research on loneliness, quality of life and dynamics of care and caring in later life with a view to influencing future policy and practice.

Initially, we will carry out biographical interviews of couples aged 60 and over, where at least one lives in a care home, to shed light on the shared and individual everyday experiences of maintaining relationships at a distance.”

Findings from the project will increase knowledge for relationship support providers, and care home practitioners and charitable organisations working with older people to improve the wellbeing of older couples in this situation. And it may help older couples who are still living together but where there is a possibility of one partner going into a care home.

Project Advisory Group

To ensure that the findings from the research contribute meaningfully to improving the wellbeing of older couples, the research team, that includes Dr Caroline Holland and Professor Sheila Peace, are working with three organisations to influence relationship support providers, care home and social work practitioners, and organisations supporting older people; Age UK MK, The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships in London, and My Home Life.

‘Coupledom in later life‘ is funded under the British Academy/Leverhulme small grants research scheme,

For more information, see the Coupledom in Later Life website.

About Author

Liz works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She has over 15 years' marketing experience working across a range of sectors, from diamonds to shampoo. She has a BSc (Hons) in Management from UMIST. In her spare time, Liz is usually found on roller skates or off travelling, having adventures.

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