Valentine’s Day can be a particularly sentimental time for couples affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia, as they adjust to dual roles as both romantic partners and care partners. This day is also a reminder that love is not only what brings couples together, but it is often what keeps couples going through this difficult journey.
For many couples, changes in their relationship can lead to isolation, withdrawal and depression. It is important to establish and maintain meaningful relationships throughout your experience with Alzheimer’s or dementia, as it can enhance your wellbeing and help you stay physically and emotionally healthy.
Our relationship since Alan’s diagnosis has definitely changed over the last six years. We now have role reversal in our marriage: I, the caregiver, am now the main person for all the decisions in our life. – Janet Tarbutton, caregiver (Liberty Lake, WA)
Tips for Navigating Relationship Changes:
Despite changing roles and responsibilities, it is possible for couples navigating Alzheimer’s to adjust to these changes. Some tips:
● Adapt activities. Continue enjoying as many activities as you can together, both old and new. Adapt activities as needed to make them comfortable and enjoyable. Let others know what social activities you feel most comfortable doing so that you may maintain your socialization by continuing to share time together.
● Maintain communication. Be open with your feelings and what you’re going through, whether as a person living with the disease or as a caregiver. Talk with your partner, family, and friends about what kind of help you may need now or in the future.
● Ask for help. You may realize that you cannot do everything you once were able to do. Share with others how they can provide help and support as roles and responsibilities change. Be specific because others cannot guess your needs.
● Strengthen relationships. Focus on relationships that are supportive. Show your gratitude for the people you love and appreciate. Give others time to adjust to the changes you’re experiencing too.
● Be prepared. Plan ahead for the future by putting together financial, legal and care plans. The sooner plans are in place, the better prepared you and your partner will be. You can then focus on enjoying your new life moving forward.
● Seek support. Sometimes befriending another couple in the same situation offers new possibilities for support. Attending a support group can open new possibilities for you.
How to Keep your Relationships Positive and Productive:
For people living with dementia, communication of your needs plays a part in keeping your relationships with others healthy. As your abilities change, there will be changes in your roles and responsibilities with family and friends.
• Be open about your feelings. Share your experience living with the disease.
• Be specific about how you would like to continue relationships and how you would like to be treated. Let others know what social activities you feel most comfortable doing and the best ways to share time together.
• Learn how to ask for help. Tell others how they can help and your desires for support.
• Strengthen trusting relationships. Focus on those relationships which are supportive, and show your gratitude for the people you love and appreciate.
• Reevaluate relationships. Don’t dwell on people who are unable to support you at this time or have a reluctant presence in your life. Give them time to adjust to your diagnosis. Try not to take their pulling away personally.
• See yourself as unique and human. You have much life left to experience!
Having a spouse who understands what I’m going through has made all the difference. I appreciate the way she takes such good care of me. – Jack Seeh (Clarkston, WA)
We’re in this together. We take it one day at a time. – Sherry Seeh (Clarkston, WA)
If you are having trouble with the changes in your relationships, know that you are not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association is here to provide support and resources as couples and families navigate changes in their relationships during the pandemic. For information and support, visit us at alzwa.org or call the Alzheimer’s Association toll-free 24/7 Helpline at 1.800.272.3900 – day or night.