Changes do occur in many aspects of relationships between the affected person and his or her caregiver during the course of the disease. These changes, however, do not diminish a person’s need for love and affection.
The loss of companionship is perhaps the initial beginning of relationship changes. The caregiver, now assuming a caregiver role, misses the opportunities for intellectual conversation and misses that person who was a “sounding board” for any problems that arose or decisions that had to be made.
The person affected may have always taken care of the family’s finances, but as the disease progresses, the caregiver must learn to make all the decisions of financial and legal matters, which can be challenging and difficult for someone already overwhelmed. Some caregivers get help from a financial adviser to assist in these meticulous tasks and decisions.
Alzheimer’s disease affects the sexual relationship between partners, too. The affected person may exhibit hypersexuality, putting demands on the caregiver and, at times, be overly affectionate at the wrong time or place. On the other hand, interest in sex may wane or decrease, and the caregiver soon misses that loss of intimacy. Yet, there can be intimacy without sexual relations. Cuddling, dancing, enjoying moments together holding hands, gentle massages are all ways of experiencing intimacy and ways to satisfy the needs of both the affected person and the caregiver.
The caregiver should try to be honest with his or her feelings regarding these relationship changes and to find ways to express them, whether it be through talking with close friends or by joining a support group.
Relationships with family and friends sometimes change drastically. Often family and friends are intimidated or are uneasy around someone with Alzheimer’s. They don’t know how to communicate with them and may feel threatened by his or her behaviors.
The caregiver can become just as isolated as his or her loved one. The caregiver should contact family and friends and share the loved one’s condition, with tips on communicating and ways they can visit in a nonthreatening manner.
The caregiver should encourage visits with family and friends for the sake of their loved one and themselves.
However, new sources of stress can arise between the caregiver and family members, who might not accept the diagnosis or want to assist with a care plan. The lack of help can make caregivers feel resentful. There may be conflicts regarding financial decisions or the type of care given to the affected individual.
Caregivers should address these concerns by holding a family meeting and acknowledging feelings and allowing everyone to express their concerns. Though everyone will not always agree, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and for everyone to realize that it is important to continue to help maintain the quality of life for their loved one.