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My partner has been diagnosed with dementia. How will this impact our marriage?

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Often a serious health change can and will change aspects of the marital relationship. The diagnosis of a dementia can impact both the relationship, the retirement plans of the couple, the financial aspects of the marriage, ways in which the couple communicates and the sexual and intimacy needs of the relationship. As this is most often a disease of the older generation marriages have a tendency to be long and enduring relationships based on more than 5 or 6 decades of patterns of communication and behaviours. Suddenly you are both living with a new person or there has been an addition of an ‘unexpected’ and unwanted stranger into the relationship- called dementia. Intimacy needs still exist for each partner in the relationship. The need for love and belonging, touch, and sexual needs. These will still continue regardless of the dementia diagnosis. For the person with dementia sometimes the brain is not able to access the ‘mechanics’ of the act of sexual intercourse and as a couple, changes will have to be explored to satisfy both of their needs for intimacy. Perhaps a back rub, hand holding, kissing, and soft words of love may not only enhance the relationship but add a quality to life that was perhaps forgotten. For the caregiver your changing roles from spouse to caregiver can be an exhausting time as well as a confusing time. Are you the “wife/husband” or the “cook?” Are you “still married” or not if the person does not remember who you are? Dementia often requires the caregiver to live in a time of ambiguity between life that was and a new life that hasn’t been figured out yet. Connecting with the Alzheimer Society outreach counsellor to discuss these complex issues can help clarify the ambiguity for both partners in a marriage.

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