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What to do if your partner has dementia

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia is life-changing for a family and especially for a couple. Dementia is a challenging disease, and it will change your relationship or marriage – from your role in it to how you feel about it.

Although overwhelming at first, learning more about dementia and how to handle it for yourself and your partner will make a significant difference in maintaining a positive relationship as the disease progresses.

Here’s a look at the impact dementia can have on a couple:

Changing roles

When a partner is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, the other partner often becomes the caregiver by default.

Your partner may no longer be able to handle the tasks they’ve been responsible for – balancing the checkbook or handling other financial matters, doing the grocery shopping, or cooking, or completing other household chores. As the disease progresses, your roles in the marriage will change. At first, it may be confusing as your partner may still be able to handle some decisions but not others. Eventually, you may start feeling the burden of having to do everything and you may have to make decisions that your partner handled during your marriage. Becoming the primary decision-maker with little support can leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Despite their diminished capacity, your loved one still values being consulted in decisions and their input is still important. Just because your spouse is dealing with memory loss doesn’t mean they’re incapable of making a decision. Additionally, decision making is not “all or nothing,” meaning they may be able to make some decisions but not other.

Here are a few tips on how you can help your loved-one:

• Communicate information in simple language and break it into small sections, allowing your partner time to think it over

• Find the right time to involve your partner in a decision: when they’re most alert and in a calm mental state (not anxious or agitated) and not in any pain or under the influence of medication that may make them drowsy.

• Use props, such as photos, to help them better understand a situation

• If a decision is complex, regarding medical care or legal matter, consider involving a professional

Difficulty in communicating

Effective communication is essential in any healthy marriage, but Alzheimer’s or dementia will make communicating more difficult. As your partner’s cognitive abilities diminish, they won’t be able to express feelings or address situations the way they used to. They may become frustrated that they can no longer find the right words, or struggle to pay attention during a long conversation. It’s easy to lose patience with your loved-one and become frustrated yourself but the National Institute on Aging has some suggestions to keep communication going:

• Keep conversations simple, offering step-by-step instructions. Be specific and stay positive, saying “please do this,” instead of “don’t do that.”

• Use your loved one’s name

• Encourage a two-way conversation for as long as possible

Feelings of anger, grief, guilt

The changes in your marriage can bring up feelings of grief or loss – your relationship has changed forever, and your spouse of many years will eventually not be the same person you married. You’re likely to experience many emotions during the grieving process:

• Denial that your loved-one’s condition will keep getting worse

• Anger at the situation and sometimes at your loved one. You may start resenting that you must become the caregiver

• Sadness

• Guilt that you can’t do more to help your partner or that you can still enjoy life. You may even feel guilt for not being able to properly care for your spouse at home.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that you allow yourself time to face all your feelings. Accept that they’re normal emotions, even when they’re conflicting and be willing to talk to someone. A trained therapist can help you work through the emotions while a support group could help you understand that you’re not alone.

When to seek help

For many caregivers, making the decision to ask for help can bring some relief. Senior living communities with a dedicated memory care program may be the right choice for you and your partner if you’re struggling to keep them safe or manage all their changing needs.

A memory care program can offer solutions such as:

• A safe and structured environment

Memory care programs offer structure to a dementia patient’s day by keeping them on a routine. Scheduled meals, therapy sessions and social events can help cut down on the confusion caused when a dementia patient becomes forgetful.

They can also keep your loved one safe as they usually offer 24-hour supervision in a secured area, indoors and outdoors.

• Specialized and individualized care

Memory care offers care that’s tailored to your loved-one’s needs and capabilities. Staff is specifically trained on techniques that allow them to effectively work with dementia patients – they know how to manage aggression or confusion.

• Therapeutic activities

Memory care offers specialized programs to keep their dementia patients physically and mentally stimulated. They may offer physical, or speech therapy, wellness, and exercise programs, as well as group activities that keep patients socialized.

Download guide on partner dementia

Memory Care at Salina Presbyterian Manor

At Salina Presbyterian Manor, we offer a dedicated memory care neighborhood with services and programs designed for those living with dementia.

The Morrison Center on our campus is a warm and inclusive environment. Our specially-trained team members provide 24-hour supervision and personalized care tailored to each resident's individual needs. Our memory care community also provides programs and activities that allow for meaningful interactions and promote social wellness for those living with cognitive decline.

Salina Presbyterian Manor has been serving Saline County since 1980. It's the only continuing care retirement community in Salina meaning, we're the only community where residents can have peace of mind that our memory care neighborhood will be available to them if and when they need the extra assistance.

Our parent company, PMMA (Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America®) is a leader in memory care within the senior living industry and works to stay ahead of new treatments and technologies. PMMA is a not-for-profit organization celebrating 75 years of serving seniors across Kansas and Missouri. Our mission is to provide quality senior services guided by Christian values.

If you have questions about Salina Presbyterian Manor or our memory care, contact us online or call us at 785-825-1366.

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