Having a spouse with dementia or Alzheimer’s can take a toll on a relationship. Husbands and wives will face many emotional struggles brought on by watching their loved one’s cognitive functions decline.
In Canada, over 432,000 seniors are affected by some form of dementia. Since there is no cure for the disease (yet), the best thing you can do for a diagnosed spouse is make them feel happy, comfortable, and safe. However, the often stressful journey of Alzheimer’s is also taxing on those closest to the affected senior, and their own mental well-being is not to be neglected. When a senior needs to care for a husband or wife with dementia, it’s not uncommon for them to develop symptoms of depression, stress, and burnout.
Here are some ways in which having a spouse with dementia can affect the elderly, and some ways to deal with them.
When a senior is affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia, their declining memory makes it harder to complete certain tasks. These responsibilities will then often fall on their closest loved one, who, in many cases, will be their spouse. New tasks for a husband or wife may include financial matters (such as keeping a textbook, balancing funds, or doing taxes), certain chores (such as meal preparation or doing the laundry), and other important responsibilities.
Because many elderly couples have established roles in their marriage, a senior who has a spouse with dementia may struggle to learn new chores. For example, if an elderly woman begins to have issues with cognitive health that make it impossible to cook food, her husband may suddenly need to make the meals. If his wife was normally the one with the job of preparing food, however, he may struggle with the new responsibility.
Similarly, if a man with dementia normally had the task of paying household bills or balancing the checkbook, his wife may suddenly need to acquire those skill herself. This is especially true if the spouse of the affected person acts as their primary caregiver.
There are a few ways to resolve the stress caused by these new responsibilities. Firstly, gathering all important documents, such as life insurance policies, financial accounts, etc. is crucial, and should be done as soon dementia is diagnosed.
Secondly, hiring a part-time or full-time caregiver, even periodically, can help relieve some of the stress from the spouse or family caregiver.
It almost goes without saying, but dementia can place a major strain on a married couple’s relationship. Having a spouse with dementia may lead to trouble with emotional connections and intimacy. This is especially true when a spouse acts as a caregiver, and their role in the relationship changes accordingly. As the husband or wife of an Alzheimer’s patient, you can address these problems by:
- Bringing them somewhere peaceful and intimate. This can be a park, a museum, or anywhere that you think will be soothing to them and allow you to spend quality time together. Consider visiting somewhere meaningful to them, like a place where they spent lots of time earlier in their life. You could also spend time together watching a movie they like, or listening to music from their youth. There are plenty of activities you can enjoy together that don’t involve elaborate conversations.
- Seeing a licensed counselor. Talking to a professional about the ways in which dementia affects your relationship can be helpful.
- Joining a support group. These types of groups are made to help those whose lives are directly affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia, and some are specifically for the husbands and wives of seniors with these illnesses. Members can share tips, discuss their experiences in having a spouse with dementia, and help ease feelings of stress.
If you have a spouse with dementia, you may begin to feel separated from family and friends. This is because family caregivers often spend little time away from the senior for whom they care, and may develop feelings of solitude as a result. Consider inviting family and friends over, or trying to organize a get-together, within the senior’s comfort level.
Don’t Do It Alone
Remember, caregiving full-time for a spouse with dementia can easily lead to burnout. It’s emotionally draining to care for a loved one with decreasing memory and cognitive function, especially when it’s your husband or wife, who may begin to forget your life-long relationship. It’s important to take breaks from caregiving, either by enlisting outside help (commonly referred to as ‘respite care’), joining support groups, or making use of local services.
Knowing when to get help caring for an elderly loved one is important. If you need help caring for a senior who has dementia, please contact us today. It will be our pleasure to discuss with you our home care assistance services.