5 ways to support a spouse with dementia

Seniors caring for a spouse with dementia may face unique challenges as they adapt to the demands of caregiving while also experiencing changes in their couple relationship.

One key challenge for spousal caregivers is to address the potential risks to their own mental and physical health. According to the University of Waterloo’s Ontario Dementia Caregivers Needs Project*, spouses caring for a partner with dementia are vulnerable to depression. Full-time caregiving can interfere with preventive health behaviours and have consequences for your physical health too, often leading to disabling arthritis, heart and back problems, and stress-related ailments such as migraines and colitis.

So it is especially important for spousal caregivers to focus on maintaining their own health to prevent such problems. If you take care of your health, this can also improve your capacity to help your partner. Here are five ways to support a spouse with dementia.

1) Plan together for the future. People in the early stages of dementia want to have a say in the decisions that will affect their life, including legal, financial and long term care planning. Talking with your spouse about these issues, though difficult, can be empowering for both of you and knowing your partner’s wishes can help you feel confident about the decisions you will need to make on their behalf*, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

2) Support your spouse’s independence. A person in the early stages of dementia may need cues to help with memory. Help your spouse with reminders to keep appointments and take medications as prescribed, and by recalling familiar names and people in social situations.

3) Maintain an emotional connection. As the diseases progresses, this may change the way you and your spouse relate to each other. You may need to find different ways to express your feelings, but dementia does not change a person’s need for love and affection. Staying emotionally connected with your partner will feel good and reduce stress for you both.

4) Take care of yourself. The Alzheimer Society of Canada’s guide to self care for the caregiver includes a caregiver stress test*. If you exhibit the telltale warning signs, ask family, friends or counsellors for help and support. Also take advantage of programs that provide respite and relief from caregiving, as well as practical help with meals or housework, and help with the care of your spouse.

5) Help your partner to live well. Help your spouse stay healthy by encouraging physical activities, providing nutritious meals and creating a daily routine that is mentally and socially stimulating whether the person is living at home or in an assisted living community.

Chartwell Retirement Residences seeks to support seniors living with dementia, as well as their families, through their memory care and memory living programs. Many of their retirement communities are equipped with dedicated and secure memory care floors where residents and their spouses can comfortably reside, and trained, caring staff can help them lead meaningful and fulfilling lives. To learn more, click here.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. University of Waterloo. "In their own voices", Online: https://uwaterloo.ca/murray.../InTheirOwnVoices-LiteratureReview.pdf
  2. Alzheimer's Association. "Early-Stage Caregiving", Online: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-early-mild-stage-caregiving.asp
  3. Alzheimer Society. "Self Care for the Caregiver", Online: http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/Livnig-with-dementia/Caring-for-someone/self-care-for-the-caregiver