Maintaining Love and Intimacy When a Loved One has Alzheimer’s
This Valentine’s Day, couples across the country will celebrate their love for one another by going out for a nice meal, exchanging flowers, cards and other expressions of romance, or simply by curling up in from of the fire and reminiscing about past romantic escapades.
For those whose spouse has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, fanning the flames of passion may be a bit more challenging. The person living with dementia may not even recognize their spouse and understand what their relationship is. The disease may have changed the person’s appetite for intimacy – either increasing or reducing their desire. To complicate matters, most state laws require consent from both parties for sex to be legal and it’s often difficult to ascertain if someone living with dementia can legally consent. Henry Rayhons found this out the hard way when he was charged in a notable case in Iowa.
If the spouse lives in a memory care community, they may have formed attachments with a fellow resident. This happened most famously with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband, who fell in love with a fellow resident at his assisted living center. It’s hard to maintain a loving relationship with someone who is in love with someone else.
So what can you do to keep romance alive if you have a loved one living with dementia? Here are some ideas of how to keep an intimate relationship with someone you love.
Learn to take cues from your loved one. If they’re open to holding hands, or a gentle neck massage, take those opportunities to connect. Alzheimer’s doesn’t generally diminish a person’s need to feel cared for. Dr. Daniel Marson, director of the Alzheimer’s Center and the University of Alabama Birmingham says that “research clearly shows that older adults as a whole retain a strong interest in sexual activity.” The specifics of that activity may be expressed in a different way, but, as Dr. Marson notes, “that doesn’t mean that the desire to be intimate goes away.”
Communicate your feelings
Your loved one may not always understand who you are, but be willing to communicate your love and commitment. If your loved one is open to being touched, give them a hug and tell them how excited you are to be in their company. Gently caress their hands while talking to them. Even if they can’t understand the full scope of your relationship, they may very well understand you are someone who cares for them, which will put them at ease.
Reminisce about the good times
Many people with dementia can still recall moments from their past. Ask your loved one if they remember the day you first met or your wedding day. Bring pictures along to help job their memory. Sharing good times of the past is an excellent way to establish intimacy and keep your connection alive.
If you are your loved one’s primary caregiver, ask for help from family, friends or an Aging Life Care™ professional to take over some of the responsibilities of daily care. The role of caregiver is a demanding one and may reduce your ability to feel romantic toward your loved one. Having someone else assist with the daily chores allows you more time to focus on the love and trust you share.
Celebrate the small moments
During those times when your loved one recognizes you and has a “good” day, take some time to acknowledge that and celebrate. The ability to see the beauty in life is an essential element in loving someone living with dementia.