Love and Dementia: Caring for a spouse with memory loss

Discovering that your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia can be quite an emotional time and it definitely takes its toll on everyone; from the individual diagnosed to the family. However, the one person that it particularly affects is the spouse. Dementia can make it quite difficult to strengthen a relationship already going through change due to old age, but it doesn’t always have to be a burden or cause for alarming concern. There are many things the spouse and family can do to support the situation.

Couples can face many changes and challenges when one partner develops dementia. It is quite often that these couples have been together for many decades and their relationship has seen joys and sorrows as well as created abundant memories together. As they grow older however, dementia can sometimes chip away at those very special things that their relationship has been based upon. Because dementia has a different effect on individuals it is very difficult to assume how a couple’s relationship will be changed. Couples and families will handle the situation in their own ways and develop solutions best suited to those individuals.

Finding the best support

A person living with dementia can experience sudden personality changes, sometimes making them unrecognizable to their loved ones. We advise families to join our Dementia Conversation events or seek ample information to prepare the spouse for what’s to come. Spouses need to be able to recognize these changes in behaviour and understand not to take it personally or withdraw from their partner. More than ever, will their spouse need their loving support and they need to be equipped to give it to them especially if they continue to live together on their own.

Families who choose to place the one parent in a dementia care facility may choose to separate the couple however there are options available to keep both parents together. We believe that keeping the couple together has wonderful effects on the spouse living with dementia. Therefore Livewell accommodates situations like these where one of the spouses are diagnosed with dementia and the other isn’t. Having their loved one nearby is a constant reminder of a beautiful life that was once lived. Caring for someone with dementia can be an all consuming and a lonely task, therefore we advise that families support the couple as much as possible.

Some important practical tips and information to remember if your spouse is diagnosed:

  • Be as supportive as possible and get support for yourself, join a support group or consider seeing a psychologist. Our online support group provides a place to connect with other caregivers and the Livewell team who truly understand what you are going through. Whether you need information about caregiving, wanting to share your story or simply need to be in a safe environment to seek help, we are here to help. 
  • Be as informed and prepared as possible, read books and collect information from others who have been through this. We have a range of dementia resources and helpful advice available on our website. 
  • Take time for yourself! Ask a friend or family member to spend time with your spouse with dementia while you spend some time doing what you enjoy. Livewell Villages offers short term dementia day care for those needing care during the day, overnight or prolonged periods when a caregiver is travelling or unavailable. Many caregivers prolong taking a break due to their own unrealistic expectations of themselves or their immense guilt at leaving the care of their loved one to someone else. Unfortunately, many caregivers are not even aware that dementia day care is as an option. 
  • Know your limits! If you are the full time care provider and spouse for the person with dementia, recognise any symptoms of burn out and exhaustion. Caregivers matter too.
  • When your spouse moves into a dementia care facility, you may feel as if you have lost your spouse as well as your role as a husband/wife and a care provider. This is an overwhelming feeling, but take comfort in knowing that your loved one deserves the best possible care available and sometimes this may mean coming from people other than you.

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Arrive as family, live with dignity and purpose.

Since 2011, the Livewell Group has been at the forefront of dementia and Alzheimer’s care in South Africa. We are motivated by a personal and heartfelt concern for the dignity and care of our elders and our efforts continue to be encouraged by the strong market need for specialised individual care.

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