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Tips On Maintaining Intimacy With a Spouse Who Has Dementia

It’s natural for couples to experience changes in their level of intimacy and sexuality over time, but when one partner develops dementia, the changes in physical and emotional intimacy can be complex and devastating.

Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may have a decreased sexual drive for a variety of reasons, including depression, medications, physical ailments, memory impairments, or personality changes.

The significant loss of emotional and physical intimacy with a spouse can be painful and isolating. At the same time, caregivers often lose sexual desire because of the exhausting demands of caregiving or a confusing new relationship balance as they take on more of a parental role.

It’s extremely normal for caregivers to feel guilt, frustration, resentment, embarrassment and confusion surrounding the love, intimacy and sexuality changes that emerge with a spouse who has dementia. Your challenge will be to address them in a healthy manner and take proactive steps to improve the quality of life for your and your spouse. Here are some tips that will help you reduce stress and enhance your self-esteem.

Self-care tips

  • Develop a support system of friends and family who you can comfortably share your feeling and experiences.
  • Keep a journal to help you express the feelings you may not be ready to discuss openly with others.
  • Join an Alzheimer’s support group that includes a number of spouses caring for their partner and ask the facilitator to raise the issue cautiously.
  • Seek out individuals in your support networks who are having similar issues and schedule some one-on-one time at a local coffee shop or restaurant so you can talk.
  • Consult with a religious advisor or therapist.

Promoting intimacy with your spouse

Even with the onset of dementia, there are still aspects of your relationship that you can nurture and that will foster closeness. Here are some activities that you can do together to promote intimacy between you and your partner:

  • Sing a song
  • Listen to music
  • Look at photo albums
  • Reminisce about happy life events
  • Take a walk or a drive
  • Visit with animals or children
  • Do some simple gardening projects
  • Exercise
  • Dance

Physical intimacy through touch

Touch is a very basic human need, and essential for the well-being of individuals with dementia. A touch can convey compassion, reassurance, safety or care — which are crucial in a loving relationship. Here are some tips to incorporate touch into your daily activities with your spouse or partner.

  • Rest your hand on his or her knee or shoulder when you sit together.
  • Whenever you walk with your loved one, retain physical contact by holding his or her hand or arm.
  • Gently massage some lightly scented lotion on your loved one’s hands and feet. Have a podiatrist take care of nail clipping and necessary medical procedures.
  • Assist with personal care such as shaving, manicures, hair brushing and even scalp massages.

Additional Resources:

Alzheimer’s Association Publications

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