A senior couple smiles as they communicate.

Memory loss and dementia: emotions and relationships

Being a friend, family member or carer for someone with memory loss or dementia can have an impact on your emotional life. While so many aspects of this person—both physical and mental—will change, it’s essential for you to keep your spirits up.

Emotional wellbeing

You may not make an immediate connection between caring for someone with dementia and your own emotional wellbeing, but it is indeed a loss. And as the condition progresses, it will be very natural for you to feel a sense of grief.

Allowing yourself to come to terms with that loss is fundamental to your emotional wellbeing. How you do this will depend on your general state of mind as well as your own support network. You may find that you're able to talk it through with family and friends, or you may discover that outside counselling is best for you, especially if you don't want to feel like you're burdening the people you love.

What matters is that you stay well and balanced and take steps to ensure that feelings of sadness or depression are acknowledged and handled with care. The NHS Choices website has a helpful overview of Counselling that can give you insight into the process. And for assistance with grief, which is common if you are living with dementia, the Alzheimer Society offers reassurance in the Grief, loss and bereavement section of its website.

Counselling via your GP

Depending on where you live, you may be able to get counselling via your GP, a social worker or a community nurse. If this is not available, you can ask your GP to refer you to a local organisation that may be able to help.

Emotional support services

The Alzheimer’s Society has a national dementia helpline that can point you in the right direction in terms of finding support. Call 0300 222 1122 for advice and assistance, whether you’re a carer, family member, friend or person with dementia. NHS Choices has its Carers Direct helpline, which can be reached at 0300 123 1053.

There are also carer support groups where you can talk through problems or ask for help. The number for the Carers UK hotline is 0808 808 7777. You can also call the Carers Direct hotline at 0808 802 0202.

If you prefer to find emotional support tailored specifically for Jewish people, you can contact Jewish Care Direct at 0208 922 2222. The Jewish Helpline can also assist you. That number is 0800 652 9249.

For general emotional support any time of day or night, the Samaritans are there to help.

Preserving relationships

If you or someone you care about has dementia, the nature of your relationship will more than likely change. While the change may be gradual, it’s important to be realistic and prepare yourself to make some adjustments.

Whether it be a family member, parent or friend who is experiencing memory loss, it will be up to you to try to imagine what it’s like to have such a different sense of what’s real and what’s imagined. Communication is going to play a major role in your relationships; our Memory loss and dementia: at home section provides some practical tips on how to keep these general lines of communication open.

And if the person with dementia is your spouse or partner, then the dynamic will come with additional surprises and challenges. When you think about it, relationships, in general, are fairly complicated. But when you throw memory loss or dementia into the equation, things can get pretty interesting between couples.

If your spouse or partner has been diagnosed with dementia and you will be the primary carer, changes in your physical relationship should be expected. There may be more or less interest in intimate physical contact, and the nature of that contact may not be the same as it was in the past. Roles may change, and levels of aggression may increase or decrease—there is just no set rule in terms of what you should anticipate.

The Alzheimer’s Society has a good overview of Sex and intimate relationships on its site. Make sure to check out the helpful links at the bottom of the page for additional guidance.

If you are in a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender relationship and you are dealing with dementia, the Young Dementia UK website has a page devoted to this topic. Written by a clinical psychologist in training, James on lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender relationships includes insight, advice and resources to help you handle the challenges that will come with caring for yourself and your partner.

Finally, for even more information on connecting with loved ones and people you care about—and who care about you—visit the Emotional wellbeing section of Jewish Care Interact.

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