A diagnosis of dementia changes the scope and structure of a marriage. There are many things to take into consideration, many plans to make and many things that have to change. One delicate topic that married couples have to navigate is sex and intimacy. This can be a hard topic for couples to broach with professionals, but it’s a very important part of a marriage that shouldn’t be ignored or neglected.
“Intimacy with our partners can shift and change over the course of a relationship and takes many different forms,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. Of course, she says, intimacy doesn’t always mean sex. “Cuddling, holding hands and gentle touching are all forms of physical intimacy that can play a role for couples dealing with a dementia diagnosis,” she says. “However, dementia doesn’t mean that a healthy sex life is no longer possible. In fact, it can be a wonderful source of support, comfort and pleasure for many years to come. Navigating this process will be unique to you and your relationship, and may even allow you to come to a deeper and richer relationship with your spouse or partner.”
How Intimacy Is Affected By Dementia
In the early stages of dementia, couples may have to find a new rhythm as they grapple with emotions, feelings and even grief brought up by their changing situation. Still, intimacy and sexual relationships in this stage can be fairly close to normal. Some couples may even feel a rekindling as both parties adjust to the new normal and make the most of the time they have together.
In the middle and late stages of dementia, the relationship and feelings involved often change. Partners who are caregivers may find their attraction fading towards their spouse, or they may find that sex is one of the only ways they can connect to their partner. The partner with dementia may feel frustrated or undesirable, or they may act out sexually due to a variety of factors. It’s possible that, eventually, a sexual relationship will eventually end. In this case, partners need to find new ways to show intimacy and nurture their relationship.
Tips for Maintaining Intimacy
Keep lines of communication open.
Sharing our feelings, thoughts, worries and happiness are irreplaceable ways to connect with and nurture our relationship with each other. For some people, this can be the deepest form of intimacy. Remember to connect with your partner by sharing parts of yourself. If you’re having issues with intimacy, talk to them. Listen to them, as well. Even if you can’t “solve” a problem right away, simply working together through it can bring you together.
Accept that the relationship will change.
The relationship that you and your partner have shared for so many years will eventually change in some fashion. Give yourself time to grieve this loss, accept the path that’s ahead and be proactive about finding new ways to connect when other avenues fall short.
Find new ways to express intimacy and sexuality.
Intimacy can be expressed in many different ways. Tender and gentle touches, like cuddling or massage, can be incredibly meaningful and can sometimes be a substitute for sex. Spending time together as a couple is another avenue. Reminisce together, enjoy a romantic dinner or watch a favorite movie. Participate in an activity, or simply sit quietly together holding hands.
Try not to take these changes personally.
It’s very difficult if you feel your partner no longer desires you, or if you find yourself uninterested in sex. It’s normal to feel rejected, lonely and isolated. As with all the other changes that come with dementia, it’s important to remember that these are a symptom of the disease and not a reflection of you as a person.
Talk to someone.
It can be hard to talk to someone about this personal situation. However, it can be very therapeutic to do so. If you feel comfortable doing it, you might want to talk to your doctor, a close friend or a clergy member. You can also seek out support groups, either in person or online. There are many forums available on the Internet, and the anonymity you have there can be beneficial in a situation like this.
Don’t feel guilty.
Some partners can feel like being physically intimate with their partner is no longer attractive because of the caregiving burden. This can cause guilt and frustration, but it’s important to not feel guilty. You feel the way you feel, and that’s okay. This is a difficult situation for everyone, and you need to do what feels right for you and your loved one.
Intimacy can ebb and flow during any stage of a relationship. What works one day may not work the next. Remain positive, flexible and above all, be kind to yourself and your partner. If your situation shifts, discuss ways to provide affirmation and affection that are comfortable and fulfilling for both of you.
Consider memory care services.
It’s hard to be both a caregiver and a romantic partner at the same time. However, by moving a loved one into a memory care facility, this relieves partners of the burden of caregiving and allows them to refocus on the romantic relationship. At The Reutlinger Community, we’ve seen firsthand how marriages and partnerships can be strengthened after an individual moves to memory care. By allowing professionals to handle the caregiving tasks, you and your partner are free to spend your time together doing the things that bring you closer in every way.
For more information about maintaining intimacy after a dementia diagnosis, or to learn more about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.
Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care
Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.
Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.
At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.
For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.