Relationships and Dementia

Relationships and Dementia

Article by 

Maree McCabe

Living with dementia increases the complexity of intimate and family relationships and, as dementia progresses, these need to be reframed and constantly renegotiated.

The experience of dementia is different for everyone and is influenced by a range of factors.

Each individual with dementia, their carer/s and family, will experience different challenges as dementia advances and relationships change. This process can be unpredictable, individual and inconsistent.

Nurturing Relationships with Seniors Living with Dementia

As dementia symptoms progress and the person’s abilities change, you may find yourself gradually taking sole responsibility for tasks previously managed by your loved one.

This may happen without you making a conscious decision to do so. Some tasks may require you to learn new skills.

Others may also impact on aspects of your relationship as you adapt to this new role of ‘carer’. It is important to take care of yourself and seek support when you need it.

What Happens if the Partner of a Person Living With Dementia Wants to Start a New Relationship?

As the caring role changes, partners may feel a shift in the balance in their relationship. Deciding to start a new relationship is a personal choice and a consideration that can sometimes happen when the person living with dementia moves into residential care.

In many situations where this occurs, the new relationship may develop out of a need for comfort and companionship that is no longer available. Often partners continue to visit and support their loved one living with dementia.

There is the potential to feel a sense of guilt or that the partner is cheating on the person living with dementia.

However, continuing to support the person living with dementia in care, alongside developing a relationship to meet the partner’s own needs for comfort and intimacy, can be a positive way to maintain wellbeing for both the person living with dementia and their partner.

Partners may feel a shift in the balance in their relationship

What Happens if the Partner Wants to End Their Relationship With a Person Living With Dementia?

This consideration does arise for some partners as taking on the role of carer can be a demanding one both physically and emotionally.

Some partners may not have the physical or emotional resources to care for a person living with dementia for an undefined period.

There may also be historical factors in the relationship that partners consider when deciding to become a carer, or to leave a relationship.

Identifying and acknowledging the partner’s own limitations is a wise approach and supports the wellbeing of both the partner and the person living with dementia.

Engaging family, friends or professionals in a support network and leaving a relationship is not failing but can be an essential approach for some couples in navigating complexities that may arise after a diagnosis of dementia.

Tips to Take Care of Yourself

Pay attention to your diet and exercise.

Maintain your social contacts. 

Balance your own needs with caring daily demands. 

Contact support services to arrange regular respite from your caring role. 

Attend support group meetings and carer education workshops. These are great for learning new tips and strategies from professional facilitators as well as from other participants who are going through similar. Many organisations throughout Australia offer support groups for carers.

Appreciate that even with the best intentions, you may cause some discomfort or agitation for the person you are caring for. Do not judge yourself harshly in these situations and accept that you are providing care in the best way you can. Both of you are learning.

If you live with dementia or are in a relationship with a person that does, we are here for you. Call us any time on 1800 100 500. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. ACG

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