When Your Spouse Has Dementia, Part I

Spouse with dementiaWe all agree that marriages that have lasted decades are precious. These couples have come to know each other in ways so intimate that their other relationships pale in comparison. When one half is diagnosed with dementia and moving to a memory care facility becomes necessary, the separation is of course heartbreaking. Though there may in part be some relief on the part of the spouse who was serving as a caregiver, such a drastic life change requires much strength and bravery from both.

This change often comes quite suddenly, and can be overwhelming. Possibly it was precipitated by an emergency hospital visit or a frightening incident at home. Indeed, this may be the most difficult challenge a couple’s relationship has ever faced. The most crucial time is the first few months, as they enter into new and unknown territory.

The following are common emotions and experiences you may have during this time:

  • A sense of loss of control as you are no longer responsible for your spouse’s day to day care
  • Struggles with how to handle a sudden increase in free time and an empty home
  • Guilt at being unable to continue to care for your spouse at home
  • Anger and despair that the life you shared, and your closest friend, is gone
  • Fear about what the future may hold
  • Second guessing the decision you’ve made

It is important to acknowledge these experiences and emotions if you are to cope with this change successfully. You may wonder if negative feelings or feelings of relief are “wrong.” Or your feelings of sadness and grief may overwhelm you. However, it’s important that you come to view the situation in a new way that will not be destructive. This is a difficult decision to make, especially if your spouse doesn’t want to leave home. But remember that the decision to enter a memory care facility is in your spouse’s best interest, and demonstrates the utmost care for their well-being on your part. There they will be cared for safely and with professional skill.

In addition to working on changing your perspective, you may also want to seek out counseling, support groups, or spiritual guidance. Time with family may also help. Finally, being open with your grief can also help you heal.

The next post will cover how to foster intimacy in this situation and how to continue with your relationship despite the separation.