Dementia, Relationships and Intimacy

Learning to cope with the changes that a loved one experiences following the diagnosis of dementia can be a major stressor...
By Home Care Assistance - September 14, 2018

Home Care Assistance is Changing the Way the World Ages. This is the latest installment of our “How To” series, where we lay out smart and easy-to-understand advice on navigating the aging process.

Learning to cope with the changes that a loved one experiences following the diagnosis of dementia can be a major stressor. We learn to adapt to the new realities and to the day to day. A major area of change, can be the way in which one expresses intimacy and affection.

As a spouse of someone with dementia, understanding the evolving needs of your partner can be a challenge. The goal is to reinforce healthy ways of expressing affection and intimacy. Over time, relationships will evolve, and intimacy can be expressed in a variety of ways. There are 5 ways in which people express their love to one another, these are known as the “love languages”. There are both physical and non-physical expressions of love which can include words of affirmation (“I love you”, “I love spending time with you”), romantic gestures, receiving gifts, spending quality time together and physical acts (kissing, hugging, etc.). Though there are a variety of ways in which one can express love, we want to ensure that the way that we do so is healthy and makes both ourselves and our partner feel comfortable.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s can lead to changes in one’s behaviour. As a result, a common area of concern for an individual with Alzheimer’s or dementia is ensuring that the behaviours are appropriate and safe. In the area of intimacy and affection, an individual may express themselves in a way that can pose a risk to themselves or others. How can we care for a loved one with dementia when their behaviours are becoming increasingly challenging? The behaviour needs to be assessed and to see if it poses a risk to themselves or others.

When an individual experiences a cognitive decline, the Alzheimer’s Association highlights that problematic behaviour may arise such as inappropriate or aggressive sexual advances. Examples of challenging behaviour include hyper-sexuality, taking off clothes in inappropriate situations and the inability to understand appropriate boundaries.

Some suggestions to manage these challenging behaviours are:

  • Redirecting behaviour
  • Implementing a caregiver of the same sex
  • Using clothing that fastens on the back for individuals who undress in inappropriate situations
  • Educating and supporting the family and caregiver. There are a variety of resources that the Alzheimer’s association offers on this subject.
  • It is important to keep in mind that though an individual may demonstrate challenging behaviours, patience and understanding is key. Seek help and resources to best manage your “new” relationship with your spouse.

Note: This article is for informative purposes only. Always check with a medical professional.

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