There’s no denying that it’s a heartbreaking situation, says Jolene Brackey, author of Creating Moments of Joy for the Person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
But even though someone with dementia may not recognize a spouse, the love and affection are often still alive in the person’s heart, Jolene says. A woman with dementia might be remembering and expecting a younger version of her husband. Even if she doesn’t recognize the older man who visits every day, she remembers her husband and still feels love for him.
One particularly awkward – and not uncommon – situation that sometimes arises: a resident living with Alzheimer’s or dementia may develop affection for another resident, who becomes the “girlfriend” or “boyfriend,” even though the resident’s spouse is still alive and visits often.
As difficult as this can be, Jolene encourages family members to try to take a compassionate view.
“We all need attention,” she says. “We all need to feel loved.”
Jolene recalls a woman whose husband had Alzheimer’s and who came to accept the fact that her husband had a “girlfriend” at the memory care community where he lived.
“She said to me, ‘I’m grateful that my husband feels loved when I’m not here,'” Jolene says.
She also likes to tell the story of a woman with Alzheimer’s who no longer recognized her husband, Bud. At one visit, Bud gently stroked his wife’s cheek, a gesture of affection they’d shared over the years.
Not knowing who he was, the woman told him: “I’m sorry, Sir, but my heart belongs to Bud.”