It may be the worst-kept secret in the senior living industry: single residents of retirement homes are having sexual relationships with each other. And given the plethora of social activities planned by many senior living providers such as continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also known as a life plan communities)–including outings, dances, or game and movie nights–there are near-limitless opportunities to meet prospective romantic partners. Even single residents of assisted living facilities frequently meet a romantic interest and pair up. But there are also reasons for seniors in retirement communities to be cautious about starting an intimate relationship.
Finding love after 55
Mainstream online dating sites like eHarmony and Match.com make it easier than ever for single seniors to find a mate. There are even dating sites that have been created to cater exclusively to seniors including Howaboutwe.com, which recently partnered with AARP, and OurTime. In fact, a 2013 Pew Research Center study found that 6 percent of Americans between ages 55 and 64 had used an online dating website or app. For perspective, 10 percent of 18-24 year-olds have used these sites…a relatively small generational gap.
In many retirement communities and assisted living facilities, where female residents are typically a majority, snagging an eligible male resident can be quite the coup.
Health concerns for sexually active seniors
Though there has been little research on what’s going on in the bedrooms of older adults, we know that American seniors often are having intimate relationships well into their 70s and even 80s, enabled in some cases by “little blue pills.” But with age, certain health conditions can limit seniors’ ability to safely engage in sexual activity.
Though pregnancy is no longer a concern for the post-menopausal set, seniors who are re-entering the world of dating after a divorce or a spouse’s death may not be as aware of the importance of sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention in this day and age, and safe sex promotion by geriatric physicians is often sub-par. Indeed, a 2010 study out of Indiana University on sexual health found the lowest rates of condom use were among people ages 45 and older.
And the lack of condom use is heavily impacting the health of the single-senior population. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of STDs among older people (including syphilis, chlamydia, genital herpes, and even AIDS) are skyrocketing. But in a sign that the tide of awareness may be turning, in 2011 and 2012, 2.2 million Medicare beneficiaries did take advantage of free STD screening and counselling.
Love in the retirement home
According to industry estimates, there are around 35,000 assisted living facilities in the U.S., as well as approximately 2,000 CCRCs. And as the Baby Boomers enter these communities, we are witnessing a shift from an institutional care model to much more individualized care, a change that often enables–even facilitates–amorous relationships between a facility’s residents.
Happy hour, senior prom, dinner-and-a-movie night: retirement communities are creating programs and events that allow single seniors to socialize with one another and offer couples an opportunity to enjoy one another’s company. Admittedly, this senior dating scene can create some awkward drama in the dining hall or when public displays of affection get uncomfortable for bystanders, not to mention the interesting dynamics as caregivers try to keep track of who is with whom.
It is human nature to crave companionship, no matter our age, yet AARP data shows that 45 percent of Americans over the age of 65 are divorced, separated or widowed. Some older seniors have been either widows or divorcees for several decades and thus welcome the company of a partner, whether the relationship is sexual or platonic. Plus, study after study shows that human interaction has many benefits for seniors (whereas loneliness is detrimental to seniors, both mentally and physically), so community staff are often happy to facilitate these love connections.
A source of heartburn for facilities, families
But relationships between retirement community residents also can raise logistical and legal issues for their families, caregivers, and the facility where they live. Some communities seem to be in denial about the canoodling going on between residents; only a few have stated “sexual expression” policies, which are intended to accommodate intimacy among residents who want it and protect vulnerable residents (such as those suffering from dementia who cannot consent) from unwanted advances.
Seniors and their families also must carefully consider financial matters if they are thinking about a late-in-life marriage, especially if an earlier divorce may have already split their retirement assets and income. But often couples who connect later in life do not feel the same pressure to make their relationship “legal,” and it is now more and more common for unwed residents to move in together in senior living facilities.
Better to know upfront
I always advise people who are considering a CCRC or other retirement facility to ask as many questions as you can so you can make a fully informed decision about which option is right for you. So if you are single and moving into a senior living community, it may be worth putting your modesty aside and asking what their policy is on intimacy between residents…for example, if cohabitating is permitted.
To learn more about CCRCs in your desired location, check out the My LifeSite Community Search Tool.