When you first meet the love of your life you picture growing old together as the two of you with gray hair (but otherwise unchanged), holding hands and gazing at a sunset. This phrase takes on a whole new meeting when you actually have grey hair and are post-retirement age.

After retiring, you and your sweetheart may find yourselves facing circumstances that take you in different directions. Retired couples often find their interests and habits have changed over the years and your shared vision of the future is very different. Your partner may plan to spend the next 30 years with a recliner and a remote and you may plan to go zip-lining in Costa Rica with the grandkids. (This is a real-life example.)

Then there is the reality that you don’t grow old at the same rate. One of you will face illness or physical limitations that result in the other partner’s role changing to that of “caregiver.” When that happens you are not growing old together, you are assisting your partner age along with you. You will need all the help and support you can get. If you stay in your own home you will need to bring in some paid services and you will welcome every opportunity to take a break. Friends, family and neighbors become crucial.

If you move to a senior community you will widen your access to nearby resources — home health aides, new friends and numerous neighbors. But as long as you share a home or apartment, much of the day-to-day care falls to you. It is ironic that couples who move together to an assisted living or memory care setting often find that even though they are paying for access to services, their partner will still expect them to be the primary caregiver — especially at 3 a.m. This is why many care settings discourage couples from growing old together.

So what’s the best way to grow old together? You have no idea what life will hand you but it’s always a good idea to have reserves — of money, friends and energy. Take advantage of every offer of help and investigate what your town or community offers in the way of respite care. Respite care is caregiver relief whether it’s an overnight stay or an adult day or just a friendly visit that allows you time to yourself. There are many different types of respite care with a range of costs but there are a lot more options out there than most people realize. Some senior communities offer programs in their assisted living and memory care programs that couples who live independently could access at no cost. If you belong to a support group, you may find couples who are willing to give you a break in exchange for a break for them. There are low-cost companion programs and transportation programs, and churches are an invaluable resource.

It may not happen often but you may find that life will still offer you and your sweetheart opportunities to hold hands and gaze off into the sunset as you contentedly grow old together.

Anne Tabat is the marketing coordinator at Mainstreet Village.

EPPIA is a networking group whose members are committed to the welfare of seniors in our community. EPPIA meets five times a year to exchange information and problem solve in the field of aging. For more information on EPPIA please visit our website at www.edenprairieaging.org.

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