Coming to Terms with Your Partner's Dementia

elderly couple caregiver outdoors

If your partner is diagnosed with dementia, your relationship with him or her will inevitably change as the disease progresses. Your spouse will become confused, lose short-term memory and be unable to recognize you and others they have known for decades.

Caring for someone with dementia is challenging but can be even harder if the caregiver is the spouse or a life partner.

However, just because your partner has dementia does not mean you both must stop enjoying life. With care, support and knowledge, you and your special someone can continue to enjoy the time you spend together.

Acknowledge the Illness

Accept the diagnosis and learn all you can about the progressive symptoms of the illness. There is no cure, and the disease will get progressively worse.

While there is a lot of stress and a lot of emotional upheavals, you can cope better once you acknowledge openly what is going on rather than trying to create unreasonable goals and expectations.

Talk to your doctor and experts about what to expect, tips on how to cope better and strategies for dealing with the various symptoms. Join online forums or a support group to help you learn how others in your situation are coping.

Include Your Partner in Decisions

Try to include your partner with dementia in making routine decisions–things like deciding on what to buy, food choices and activities in general.

This doesn’t mean you can include them in everything. Paying bills or performing activities that require good judgment may exacerbate their symptoms and they may become frustrated and upset.

Take Care of Yourself

Coping with the daily problems and emotional ups and downs of a loved one with dementia takes a toll. You need to schedule time off for yourself, away from the situation. Work with other family members or professional caregivers who can take over on a regular basis so you can go and get your hair done, go shopping or just be by yourself.

Learn how to relax when you are at home. Meditation, deep breathing techniques or some other method of relaxation will help keep you focused, alert and less anxious, particularly during the more difficult days.

Social Contact

You and your partner with dementia should not isolate yourselves from others. Regular social contact is essential to your overall health.

Social contact helps relieve anxiety in people with dementia. It will help encourage your loved one to remain as independent as possible and not rely entirely on you.

Routine

Even people without dementia need a routine. For someone who has dementia, having a daily routine for things like eating, exercising and other activities helps keep them calm. You will be more relaxed, too.

Don’t Take Things Personally

smiling senior woman garden area

As the disease progresses, your partner may do and say things that are incredibly hurtful. Avoid taking things personally. An individual with dementia is not the same loving, caring partner whom he or she once was. Their cognitive abilities have become significantly impaired, especially those related to long-term memory and social skills. The sense of self is no longer the same. He or she can’t relate to you as a partner as easily–eventually probably not at all. A person with dementia can’t edit their behavior.

Help Your Partner Remain as Independent as Possible

Don’t try and do everything for your partner with dementia. Encourage them to do things on their own. They still have a sense of self-esteem and self-worth and becoming totally reliant on someone else adversely affects their emotional well-being.

Focus on letting them do small tasks for themselves, as many as they can. Remain cognizant of their limitations because if you expect too much, you will only frustrate the afflicted person further.

Learn to Recognize Discomfort

closeup seniors hands

People with dementia cannot communicate as well as they did before the onset of the disease. A sudden change in mood might signal pain or illness. Confusion or disorientation may signal an internal infection. Teeth clenching, twitching or holding their stomach or side–even though nothing is ever said–can also indicate a medical problem or even the need to urinate.

Moving on With Your Life

For the sake of your sanity, let go of self-punishment, guilt or judgment. You had a deep love for your partner’s involvement in your life; that relationship is now gone, and that fact causes grief. Deal with it in your way and both you and your partner will benefit from you making that choice.

Stacey Warren