Britain’s Most Senior Family Judge Calls to Keep Elderly Couples Together

Sir James Munby, Britain’s most senior family judge, has stressed the importance of keeping elderly couples together when the need for care arises.

It is not uncommon for one member of a couple to develop the need to enter some sort of senior care, and in some cases, even both members end up requiring care. Sir James has stressed however the importance of staying in home care and not separating couples, claiming doing so could lead to people dying of a “broken heart.”

While recognising the need for care, the judge also said sometimes it is important to consider whether couples would rather be happy or safe, claiming that many would, in fact, opt for the former if it meant staying with their partner.

“I read with personal outrage reports of cases where the results of the operation of the system is that people may have been together for 30,40 or maybe 50 years are separated in their final years”, he said.

He later described the situation as “absolutely shocking and a profound indictment of our society.”

A broken heart

Sir James also stated that by separating elderly couples, you risked them dying of a broken heart:

“We do know that people die of a broken heart. I have read of cases where one person died and then the other dies a couple of days later. How long do people last if they are uprooted? A very short time,” he said.

Death from a broken heart is scientifically referred to as stress cardiomyopathy. It causes the body’s left ventricle to change shape, which in turn weakens the heart muscle.

Studies have been undertaken to investigate the condition. In 2014, a study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal found that those who had experienced a loved one dying within the last month were twice as likely to develop a heart attack or stroke compared to the control group.

Cases of dying from a broken heart are also not uncommon. Earlier this year, Wilf and Vera Russel from Leicester, England, died only 4 minutes apart from each other after their 71 years of marriage.

The case of Jessie and Ray Lorrison

Sir James’s remarks follow the events that occurred late last year, in which an elderly couple were forced to live apart despite being married for 70 years.

95-year-old Ray Lorrison was taken to a care home after his Alzheimer’s disease progressed to a point where professional care was needed. His wife, Jessie, who was in hospital at the time recovering from a previous accident, was told she would be unable to live at the care home too due to not meeting the necessary criteria.

In an attempt to rectify this, one of the couple’s grandchildren, Lee Bates, set up a petition to ask the council to reconsider.

Upon receiving 21,000 signatures, the council were forced to look into the matter. After discovering that due to her accident Mrs Lorrison was now unable to go to the toilet unaided among other physical issues, the council decided to appeal the initial decision and allow her to live alongside her husband at the care home.


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