When dementia happens to marriage


The month of February is all about love – searching for love, celebrating love or, within our caregiving community, taking a loving approach to dementia care. A topic that is not discussed very often, but is so important to talk about is the way that relationships change when someone is diagnosed with dementia. Specifically, when dementia happens to a marriage.

When someone in a marriage is diagnosed with dementia, many complex emotions are felt by both people. At the beginning of your journey, there will likely be a big learning curve while you’re balancing observing all of the changes to your daily lives with grieving the loss of a partnership and friendship at the same time.

There is often a significant emotional loss experienced by the healthy spouse, and many couples attempt to do the impossible by reverting to the way things were before pre-diagnosis, living in a sort of “dementia denial.” While this may feel like a secure space, it will only do long-term harm. In addition to ignoring symptoms that need proper care, it paves a path for more disappointment and sadness because your old life and relationship can’t be maintained.

Your marriage will change, eventually changing from a romantic relationship to one that resembles more of a child-and-parent dynamic, but that’s what dementia caregiving is all about – managing loss and change. A marriage can evolve and grow in a different direction if you accept your new normal as your reality.

Here are a few ways to do this while supporting yourself, a dementia caregiver, on this mystifying journey:

  • Accept that your marriage is permanently changed.
  • Continue to educate yourself and become Dementia Aware.
  • Understand the changes in your spouse’s behavior are not intentional.
  • Understand the intimacy between the two of you will change.
  • Allow yourself to feel your feelings without judgment.
  • Keep a journal to explore the way you’re feeling.
  • Find a support group so you don’t feel alone.
  • Focus on the positive, even if it’s hard to find.

In the third edition of my book, A Loving Approach to Dementia Care, I cover this delicate topic in-depth, along with many other relevant topics that you will find useful on your caregiving journey. It will be available in March and is now available for pre-order.

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