Alzheimer’s disease affects people and their families in ways that are unique and complex to them. The brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease deteriorates in ways that create changes to their personality and their relationships which can be very emotional for their loved ones. These personality changes can be difficult to process and can often lead to loved ones experiencing the grieving process long before the person with Alzheimer’s actually passes. They must also redefine and care for a person who may no longer recognize them and behave increasingly frustrated and erratic due to their self-dysregulation. This can strain an already fracturing relationship, but with support groups and therapy, there are ways to mend the relationship. Even as you recreate and repair your relationship with your loved one with Alzheimer’s, there is another risk to consider, especially if they are living in a long-term care home full time. There is a chance for your loved one, even your spouse of many years, to develop a romantic relationship with another person.
‘Away from Her,’ the 2006 Canadian drama film, represents the challenges experienced and the support needed when navigating through a changing relationship with your spouse who develops Alzheimer’s and then falls in love with another person after being admitted into a long-term care home. While this movie based on the narrative created by Alice Munro in her short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”, it does happen in real life. This can be devastating for a loving spouse who has been happily married for many years only to watch as their spouse emotionally detaches from them only to fall for someone else. And often, despite the tragedy of emotionally losing your spouse, families and spouses do nothing to stop it and may even support the new relationship.
Supporting this relationship can be fraught with emotional challenges. It introduces a new person into a marriage nonconsensually on the part of the other spouse. This can breed resentment towards the spouse with Alzheimer’s, but it is critical to understand that it is not the intention of the person with Alzheimer’s to do this, however, it is a by-product of them seeking connection and community during a time which is full of frightening changes. By allowing your spouse to build and maintain their relationships, even romantic ones, they will be able to lead a more peaceful and supported life.
This choice can be difficult for families to make, but in the story ‘Away from Her,’ the spouse recognizes that his wife can find happiness by creating a connection with another man and finds peace in supporting her. He sees that she is a new person in a difficult circumstance, and she must make the best of her situation, and he must as well. This can be bittersweet, as you will grieve the loss of that relationship and intimacy, however, there is some comfort in knowing that you are supporting the person you love in their happiness.