How to Deal with Your Changing Relationship with someone with Dementia

Dementia changes relationships as cognition declines, short-term memory fails and problem solving becomes difficult. A once independent person must begin to rely on others for help with daily tasks. Families and friends will notice changes in mood or behavior. The disease causing the dementia, whether it’s Alzheimer’s or something else, is slowly destroying the brain, and it may seem as if the person you once knew is no longer there.

As the disease progresses, your friend or family member struggling with dementia will slow down. “What becomes critically important,” says dementia expert Teepa Snow, “is that we slow down and we change our expectations … They’re still an amazing person.”

Accept And Prepare For Changes

As a caregiver, you will take on new roles. Household chores, handling finances and legal issues will largely become your domain. You will be making decisions for your loved one and your lives together, which may be difficult if, in the past, you’ve tackled decisions as a couple. You may want to develop a standard way of thinking along the lines of “What would he want me to do?” However, it is important that you consider your own needs as well. Caring for a loved one with dementia is stressful, and that stress will take a toll on your health. You need to be emotionally and physically well to care for another person.

It Is Normal To Feel Grief And Frustration

You may feel angry, depressed and anxious with the turn your life has taken. This is normal, and there is no reason to have guilt over these feelings. They may be indications your stress levels are too high. When you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, try these relaxation techniques:

Abdominal breathing — Sit up straight. Inhale deeply through your nose to the count of four, hold your breath to the count of seven, and then exhale through your mouth to the count of eight. Repeat this several times.

Visualization — In your mind, picture a place you find relaxing. Notice details of the image including the feel, smells and sounds. For example, if you like the seashore, image the gritty feel of the sand beneath your feet and the heat of the sun. In your mind, listen to the sounds of waves rolling up on shore and the cries of seagulls overhead.

Progressive muscle relaxation — Begin with your toes and move up your body progressively tensing, and them relaxing, your muscles.

Expect Intimacy To Take Different Forms

Dementia may affect your partner’s libido, and cognitive decline will change the way you and your partner share emotions. As a caregiver, your own sex drive may wane under the stress of multiple responsibilities. Intimacy is still important. However, you will need to find new ways to connect with each other.

Build A Network Of Support

You do not have to go it alone — ask for help from family and friends. It is important you have some time to yourself. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website to search their comprehensive database of community programs and services. Support for caregivers is available in all 50 states and the U.S. territories.