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Dementia caregiving: Dealing with the strain on your marriage

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 19, 2020.

If your parent has Alzheimer's disease or another disorder causing dementia, you might find yourself taking on the role of caregiver. This new and evolving role can disrupt your responsibilities and relationships, including your marriage.

Understanding how caregiving can impact your marriage may help you protect and nurture your relationship with your spouse.

Sources of potential conflict

Many factors can play a role in shaping the impact dementia care has on your marriage:

  • The quality of your relationship with your parent
  • The quality of your spouse's relationship with your parent
  • Loss of income if you work less than previously
  • An increase in household or medical expenses
  • Loss of time spent together as a couple
  • Changes in family and household roles
  • Conflicts among extended family over care decisions
  • Your own emotional and physical well-being

Tips for coping

Self-care is important for caregivers. Eat a healthy diet, get exercise, attend your medical appointments and keep regular sleep habits. Paying attention to your marriage also is essential.

To protect and strengthen your relationship:

  • Communicate clearly. Talk to your spouse about your experience as a caregiver. Explain how it feels, what you find challenging and what is positive. Listen to your spouse's concerns about the impact of caregiving on the family.
  • Ask for help. Ask for help from your spouse, other family members or close friends. Be specific about what kind of help you need, such as caregiving tasks, household responsibilities or research about care resources.
  • Plan time together. Plan time together. Use other care options — friends, family members, respite services or in-home care services — to give you and your spouse time to be alone and away from caregiving responsibilities.
  • Connect with community. Join a local support group for family caregivers or connect with other caregivers online. Participate in a support group as a couple.
  • Seek professional help. Family counseling with a clinical social worker, psychologist or other mental health care professional can help you communicate your feelings, understand each other's needs and resolve conflicts.

Planning for future care

Planning for long-term care can be important to meet the needs of both the person with dementia and the family. Discussions with your spouse will likely involve not only care options but also factors that may complicate the strain of caregiving, including:

  • The long-term emotional impact of caregiving
  • An increase in the amount of time needed for caregiving as the disease progresses
  • Changes in family roles as the disease progresses
  • The costs of residential or nursing care

Planning ahead can ease some of the challenges and help your spouse and you address these decisions together.

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