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#132015 - 11/15/07 08:55 PM Alzheimer's-nursing home infidelity
orchid Offline


Registered: 01/21/07
Posts: 3675
Loc: British Columbia, Canada
Article today in a national Canadian newspaper about dementia & infidelity, forgetting your spouse, etc.

Nursing home infidelity bittersweet but common
REBECCA DUBE

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

November 15, 2007 at 9:35 AM EST

Sandra Day O'Connor retired from the U.S. Supreme Court last year to care for her husband, John, who has Alzheimer's disease.

Now he's fallen in love with another woman - and his wife approves.

John O'Connor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease 17 years ago, and Ms. O'Connor was his sole caregiver for a long time. In the early years, she sometimes took him to court with her.

When he moved into a nursing home recently, his son says, he became severely depressed. But all that changed when he moved into a new cottage at the nursing facility and met a woman, identified only as Kay, who also has Alzheimer's.

"He was a teenager in love," Scott O'Connor told KPNX-Channel 12 in Phoenix, Ariz., where his parents live.

The O'Connors' situation closely mirrors the plot of the 2006 film Away from Her, directed by Sarah Polley and based on an Alice Munro short story, in which a woman with Alzheimer's forgets about her husband and falls in love with another patient at her nursing home.

It's not uncommon for patients with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia to forget that they are married and strike up a new romance.

The disease may rob them of their memories, but it does not strip away their basic human need to love and be loved.

The normalcy of an Alzheimer's romance doesn't make it any easier for spouses, though. Some react like Ms. O'Connor, who was relieved that her husband of 54 years finally felt content in his nursing home.

"Mom was thrilled that Dad was relaxed and happy and comfortable being here," her son said.

Others feel betrayed and angry.

"I've seen people be very accepting and I've seen people have a huge struggle," said Marija Padjen, program manager for the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. "It often comes down to dealing with the grief of losing that person," she said - and anger over a new romance may mask fear and grief about losing a spouse to illness and ultimately death.

"The key is, people [with dementia] still feel emotion. That need for love and intimacy stays with us," Ms. Padjen said.

Romances among people with dementia can sometimes be hard for nursing home staff to accept as well. Staff members need to observe budding relationships to ensure that they're mutually consensual, says Ruth Goodman, senior social worker with Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System in Toronto.

"It is a complex and very nuanced area," Ms. Goodman said. Elderly people, including those with dementia, "have a right to relationships that are freely chosen," she said.

Caregivers have to make sure that public displays of affection don't get out of hand. Rather than scolding two patients who are making out in the hallway, Ms. Goodman said, staff members might redirect them to a private room. And increasingly, nursing homes are setting aside private places where two consenting patients can be intimate.

"People are becoming much more open about it," Ms. Padjen said, "but there are still hang-ups even professionals can have." The Toronto Alzheimer Society is sponsoring a forum later this month to discuss intimacy issues and dementia, titled "Leave your baggage at the door."

Baggage aside, it can be devastating for family members to watch someone stare blankly at his spouse of 50 years and then light up at the sight of his girlfriend of one week. But that's one of the heartbreaking aspects of the way Alzheimer's attacks the brain.

It's not that the patient remembers the girlfriend more strongly than his wife, says Mary Schulz, senior manager of education for the Alzheimer Society of Canada. Rather, she said, he's just reacting emotionally to someone who has recently sparked good feelings.

"It is a very difficult issue for folks to grapple with," Ms. Schulz said.

Family members need to understand, Ms. Goodman said, that a new relationship "doesn't take away from the richness of the memories with her husband."

Dementia is unpredictable, and it doesn't always cause people to forget their spouses. Ms. Padjen knew one patient who believed he was still courting his wife of 40-plus years.

"He kept asking her to marry him, over and over again," Ms. Padjen recalled. "She said yes every day."
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#132017 - 11/15/07 09:06 PM Re: Alzheimer's-nursing home infidelity [Re: ]
ladyjane Offline


Registered: 08/22/07
Posts: 1761
Loc: Southern Maine, USA
A person with Alzheimer's is not the person that was there before the disease. While a surviving spouse would or could struggle with this, it's so common. This man may, in fact, eventually find another interest and act as though he never met Kay. Or he may find a male friend who sparks his interest and find he just wants to sit with him. The many facets of this disease, especially when it has progressed this far, is innumerable. I'm glad she's okay with it. After all, it is not a sexual thing and it is not hidden. He is not doing anything to intentionally hurt her. He most likely doesn't even know or understand what his relationship was or is with Mrs. O'Connor. It's just another horribly sad downward spiral of this disease.
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If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane ~ Jimmy Buffett

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#132018 - 11/15/07 10:19 PM Re: Alzheimer's-nursing home infidelity [Re: ladyjane]
Jane_Carroll Offline
member

Registered: 07/06/06
Posts: 1521
Loc: Alabama
Very interesting article. Thanks for posting it Orchid.
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Jane Carroll

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#132019 - 11/19/07 09:34 PM Re: Alzheimer's-nursing home infidelity [Re: Jane_Carroll]
Dianne Offline
Queen of Shoes

Registered: 05/24/04
Posts: 6123
Loc: Arizona
My son just told me they are putting his dad, my first husband, into an Alzheimers home. He also has a brain tumor and has actually shrunken his brain for so much alcohol. Maybe his poor wife will get some rest because living with him has not been a walk on the beach for sure!
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