“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is not I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets
Many of you who read my articles know how much I enjoy the work I do with Memory Matters. For almost 14 years, I have been blessed to come to work each day knowing I can support families that are caring for someone with dementia.
These families enrich my life beyond belief. I meet couples that have been married for 50-plus years and are now watching their loved one forget their history. This journey can last many years.
For some their love grows even stronger; these are the couples that accept the diagnosis.
They are real about what is happening, and rather than challenge the memory of their partner, they respect what he or she can still accomplish.
The only way to find peace in a marriage when one partner has dementia is to understand the disease.
How does a diagnosis of dementia change the dynamics in a marriage?
You might find yourself taking on a new role in your relationship as your partner’s memory declines.
The person with Alzheimer’s disease might no longer be able to perform certain tasks, such as balancing the checkbook, doing the taxes, handling financial and legal matters and doing certain household chores.
Making important decisions on your own might feel overwhelming.
Be prepared for these changes. Locate financial and legal documents, such as life insurance policies, property deeds and retirement accounts, soon after your loved one is diagnosed.
Turn to family, professionals or community resources for assistance, as needed. The more you reach out, the better caregiver you can be for your partner. You cannot blame them for not being able to perform certain tasks. Embrace the change, and surround yourself with help.
You might feel socially isolated because your family and friends might have pulled back from your relationship, or you have little time to spend with them.
Your family and friends might hesitate to spend time with you because they worry about not knowing what to say or do. They also might not understand the behavior changes caused by this disease.
Take the initiative to help them understand, tell them you value their friendship and need them now more than ever.
Let them know in advance of any physical or emotional changes in the person with dementia.
Encourage them to learn about how best to communicate with your loved one. In other words, keep living!
Love can continue to grow if you stay real and in the moment. Knowledge, support and resources pave the road for this journey.
I encourage families to seek resources soon after the diagnosis.
Getting the facts early can help you be an understanding caregiver.
Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. firstname.lastname@example.org