Young love in aged care
Forget online dating, two loved up seniors discovered the best place to find romance was in a Bupa aged care dining hall.
According to 82 year old Des Peters, he knew there was something special about Rhonda the minute he laid eyes on her.
Rhonda Lofthouse was fairly new to the Bupa Aged Care home in Traralgon, and had been sitting by herself on the other side of the dining hall.
"From one side of the big hall down there, I could see Rhonda sitting there, and for some reason I just thought - that’s someone I should go and talk to,” Des says.
Rhonda lost her eyesight due to an infection when she was just 12 years old. But she clearly remembers the moment Des first came over to speak to her. The young-at-heart resident was quickly swept off her feet.
They both say it was love at first encounter - and the pair hasn't spent a day without each other since.
“I just like her company,” Des says. “We’re quite happy to just sit there and talk for hours.”
While I was chatting to the couple, they barely let go of each other’s hands. Grinning like teenagers, they snuck in cuddles whenever they thought no one was watching. I couldn’t help but think to myself, despite the many years they’ve experienced, it was 'young love' in every other sense.
“I buy her gifts sometimes, a little bit of jewellery, if there’s anything that she needs then I’ll get it for her. She loves teddy bears, she’s got about 48 or 49 of them, and I bought most of them for her.”
Rhonda is a woman of few words, but she was quick to point out – the gifts didn’t end there.
“You also bought me a rooster, that monkey, and a little dog,” she said.
“How has life changed now that you and Des have become close?” I asked.
“Very much better,” she responded. “He makes me happy.”
Rhonda has epilepsy and needs a wheelchair to get around.
The pair has different care needs so they’re being looked after in different parts of the home, but every afternoon Care Manager Jane Florey, or one of the other Bupa staff members, wheel Rhonda over to visit Des so they can spend time together.
“If he’s got any concerns about Rhonda he’ll come and ask me or one of the nurses, so he takes a really great interest not just in her, but in her wellbeing as well.”
“They spend at least a couple of hours together every day, sometimes more. They go and do activities together, sometimes they’ll go on outings together.”
“We’re not allowed in each other’s rooms,” says Des, “So it can be hard because her room is over the other side (of the home). I would like to be a little bit closer so I can talk to her more,” he says.
While their story may be heart-warming, it’s not unusual for special friendships to be formed in Bupa’s homes. Care manager Jane Florey says staff put a lot of time into helping residents form meaningful relationships.
“When a resident is admitted we look carefully at where we like to seat them at the dining table so that they can make friends. We take into account things like past backgrounds, their social needs or the country they may have come from,” she says.
“For instance we had one lady who came from Italy, and we had another lady who arrived from another part of Italy who didn’t speak much English, so I made the decision to put them on the same table together and they formed a friendship.”
Jane says it’s also not unusual for widowed residents to strike up romantic relationships within the home, forming strong bonds like Des and Rhonda.
“Just because you enter an aged care facility it doesn’t mean that the fun is over. There’s still plenty of living to do within these walls.”