Having a romantic relationship can be as common for a person living with Alzheimer’s disease as with any other person. However, it’s a situation that can be awkward for families to experience if their loved one is in a previously committed relationship with someone else.
Retired Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and her family know this scenario firsthand. They graciously made their story public to help shine a spotlight on what others may go through and how to approach it with understanding and grace.
Prior to moving to a memory care community, John O’Connor had been living at home. When he moved to a memory care community, it was revealed that he had developed a romantic relationship with another resident. The two would hold hands and show affection, in the presence of their spouses.
While it’s often tough for families to watch what looks like betrayal, the former justice told people she learned to accept it because it made her husband happy.
“It’s important to remember that people living with Alzheimer’s disease still have the same basic human needs as anyone else,” says Rita Altman, Sunrise Senior Living’s senior vice president of Memory Care & Program Services. “Sandra Day O’Connor’s response was a model example of how we can support our loved ones by recognizing where they are in their journey and putting them first.”
As National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month continues, here are some suggestions on how to best manage this complicated scenario.
Accepting and Finding Peace
Moving forward and accepting the situation isn’t always easy or quick. Here’s what spouses and family members should try to understand:
- The disease causes damage to the brain that creates memory loss. As a result, some people with Alzheimer’s can only live in the moment. Finding moments of joy is important.
- These types of relationships may occur as a result of the disease and are generally harmless. They aren’t a sign that an adult with Alzheimer’s lost feeling for a spouse. This is not an act of betrayal.
- While painful to accept, a senior with Alzheimer’s might no longer recognize their spouse. Sometimes it’s because their more recent memory is lost, and in their mind, a spouse is younger than the older adult who now visits them.
- While seniors with Alzheimer’s might lose their memory, they don’t lose their need to connect with others and to feel loved. Sharing feelings of fondness with another individual living at their senior living community helps them feel emotionally and physically needed by someone else.
Coming to terms with this situation is a process. For some spouses and families, acceptance comes more quickly than others. It might help to join a support group or organization dedicated to the needs of spouses who are caring for a partner. Here are two options to explore:
- Well Spouse Association: This organization is dedicated to spouses who are caring for partners with a chronic or life-limiting illness. You can connect online or in person. The group hosts a variety of conferences and respite events aimed at helping partners cope with their loved one’s condition.
- The Alzheimer’s Spouse: A support group exclusively for Alzheimer’s spouses, this organization provides a rich variety of resources and information, including message boards. You can post a question to ask peers how they cope with specific challenges, as well as answer posts to help offer support.
In addition to joining support groups, make sure to work with the leadership at your loved one’s senior living community. Ask for a meeting where you can discuss the situation and vocalize your thoughts and feelings. Then, form a plan to ensure that you maintain open lines of communication with the community’s leaders and caregivers.
Memory Care at Sunrise
If you are the spouse or partner of an older adult who has Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia, we know caring for them at home can be difficult. When you need a short-term break, we can help. Our Reminiscence neighborhoods offer respite services designed to support families who are caring for a loved one. Call us at 888-434-4648 to learn more.
Source: Sunrise Senior Living