How Does Alzheimer's Disease Impact Relationships?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2019 | Last updated: February 2023
A major medical diagnosis can impact relationships of all kinds, and a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is no different. A person with Alzheimer's disease may have a wide variety of relationships: intimate, friendships, caregiver relationships, and more – all can be touched by the diagnosis.
Be cognizant of this so that everyone is able to get the support they need in order to maintain fulfilling and healthy relationships.
Alzheimer's impact on intimate relationships
Alzheimer's disease can affect both the person living with the condition and their partner in an intimate relationship.
The person with Alzheimer's may be upset in the early stages about what this means for the future, the changes in their memory, how they relate to their partner, and the uncertainities as the disease progresses.1
Their partner may find themselves pulling away sometimes, both emotionally and physically, or wonder about their capacity for caregiving and supporting the patient. As the disease progresses, the patient may become depressed or aggressive in the relationship, act out, forget about the nature of the relationship, or even fall in love with someone else – all of which can be devastating for the partner.1
Changes in intimacy
A person with Alzheimer's disease may lose interest in having sex or being physically intimate, due to either the illness or medication side effects, but there are other ways that partners can be close. Find new ways to spend time together and other ways to show affection.1
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some individuals with Alzheimer's disease are hypersexual, or overly interested in sex. They may attempt to seduce others or act out in inappropriate ways – this is a symptom of Alzheimer's disease.1
Mitigating relationship changes
Partners should stay calm and try to be understanding, even though it may be difficult. Reassurance is calming and can be important as the disease gets more severe. Here are some coping tips for partners that might be helpful:1
- Find a support group where concerns can be shared with people in a similar position
- Remind yourself of the positive aspects of the relationship
- Talk with a counselor or a trusted individual about what's going on, any challenges that are occurring, or the changes that are happening
Reassure the person, give them a hug, or show other kinds of affection. If this becomes an issue, talk with their doctor about the behavior - sometimes medication is warranted.
An Alzheimer's disease diagnosis can also affect friendships. Some people aren't able to handle adversity, while others might be unsure of what to say or what to do when they hear the news.
Understandably, this can be hurtful and further isolate someone with Alzheimer's. It's helpful to offer reassurance to the person with Alzheimer's that it is not their fault, and they have support in other ways. Sometimes people need some time for the news to sink in or do their own research to feel comfortable around the person newly diagnosed.
A person newly diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease may feel left out of conversations or important discussions because others might feel they're not up for or able to handle discussions. This loss of autonomy and respect is hard.
Adjusting to a new life with Alzheimer's
Adjusting to a life where they might not be able to drive or do things as independently as they once used to can be upsetting, as well. They may fear they are becoming a burden on others or fear for their future, becoming isolated and withdrawn from friends, social groups, and caregivers.2
Open and honest communication
Encourage open and honest communication in relationships of all kinds. Through honest discussion, many fears can be talked through, and the person can get the reassurance and support they need.
As Alzheimer's disease progresses and cognition and communication are impaired, relationships will change naturally over time. It's important that the person with Alzheimer's feels supported, reassured, and loved, above all else.
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