There is no denying dementia causes significant changes in the life of the sufferer. Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they consider the topic of dementia includes memory changes and confusion, however, romantic relationships can also be impacted. Dementia can affect both emotional, romantic, and physical connectedness. Often changes to romantic relationships can be difficult to discuss as most people do not feel comfortable discussing issues or problems in their intimate relationships. Dementia can affect sexual urges, desire, arousal, feelings about intimacy, and difficulty maintaining the bond between partners.
Although, we are discussing romantic relationships this does not by any means suggest we are only discussing the sexual aspect of the relationship. Romantic relationships can include intimacy without sex. Intimate relationships can take many different forms and sex is not important for everyone. As dementia progresses in a relationship partners can learn different ways of being intimate and remaining connected. This can include incorporating more kissing, hugging and touching in the relationship. Partners may need to become more creative and expand both their knowledge and understanding of intimacy, to build upon and enhance their relationship.
The early signs of dementia can be both scary and confusing for the sufferer as well as his or her partner. However, the onset of dementia does not have to signal the end of a healthy sex life. Partners are encouraged to come up with creative ways to keep their love and sex life alive. No will remain the same as time, experiences, sickness, age, loss, health, etc., will contribute to changes in the relationship over time. Many couples find that they can maintain connectedness through in their romantic relationship even when other means of expression have diminished.
For many couples struggling with the challenges that come with dementia, physical intimacy continues to be a rich source of mutual comfort, support and pleasure for many years. When it comes to sexual desires, pleasure, frequency, and intimacy challenges can arise in any relationship. However, it is important to remember that there is no single ‘normal’ way of dealing with sexual and romantic challenges in a relationship. For this reason, it is important to maintain open communication and seek professional counseling should the issue persist.
Most of us are aware that dementia affects the brain, leading to changes in sexual feelings, urges, and unpredictably for the individual who has been diagnosed with dementia. Depending on which parts of the individuals brain that has been affected and the medication they are taking, changes in the quality, frequency and interest can occur.
The Following Changes Can Occur Following the Onset of Dementia:
• Decreased interest in sex
• Increased interest in sex
• Changes in what the individual finds pleasurable
• Challenges with maintaining or obtaining sexual arousal
• Changes in levels of inhibitions
• Misunderstanding other partners needs or behavior
• Mistaking their current partner for their previous partner
• Changes in one’s response to sex, e.g., appearing cold and detached
• Appearing more aggressive if they appear their sexual needs are not being met
• The individual with dementia might forget they have had sex immediately afterwards, or no longer appear to recognize their partner.
Adjusting to the changes caused by dementia can be difficult, however, with ongoing communication, compassion, and educating oneself about the disease can be helpful with managing some of the issues that can arise in the relationship. If you find you cannot manage the challenges on your own professional counseling and familial support can help.