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Dating when a spouse has Alzheimer's

By Tom P Blake Finding Love After 50

Dating when one of the persons involved has a spouse who has Alzheimer's is a complicated topic.


Karen emailed, "I am in a relationship with a wonderful man whose wife has had Early Onset Alzheimer's for five years. She is still at home, and he takes very good care of her, I would not be seeing him if he didn't take good care of her.


"She is on a waiting list for a room in a lovely new nursing home (NH). This week she is going into the NH for a respite 10 days. The respite is for him mainly, and for her to become familiar with the NH.


"We are going away together for three days, have rented a cabin and plan to relax and be together.


"My questions are, Should I force myself to stop loving this man because of his wife being ill? He loves me I know, and he is not shy about us being seen together. Is it possible that he has emotionally detached from his wife, but still cares for her, and is able to love me?  


"We talk all the time about our future and it does include her, in the sense of his visiting her, and I would go some too. Is it okay to love this man? He is the love of my life.


"I met him online. We talked via phone a number of times and then met for coffee. We have been dating for five months.


"I have met her. I went to see her about one month after I met him. He hasn't told her he is seeing someone else. That would be cruel and unnecessary. I have been to their home three times, once for the first meeting when her VON nurse was there, once when I stayed with her while he went to the dentist. On Mother's Day, my son and I went for dinner.  


"Life is short, and I have waited a long time to be loved like this, I do have a tiny bit of guilt. He says that she is no longer there, and he will care for her until she dies. He wants me and my son to be in his life. I am not looking for validation, just your opinion.


Tom's reply: I asked a couple of Alzheimer's experts for their opinions.


The first expert is Ed, whose wife has had Alzheimer's for seven years. Two years ago, he wrote to me that his wife was mentally gone, didn't know him or anyone else, was in an assisted living facility and slept most of the day. He visited her 3-4 times per week. Ed had met a woman and was dating her. Both Ed and the woman felt uneasy about dating.


This week, when I asked Ed for an update, he said, "Tough subject. I thought I could handle it. I learned I could not be emotionally involved, to the exclusion of my feelings for my wife. The lady found this unacceptable. The only thing that seems to work is an uncomplicated relationship, not that that is what I want, but it was all I was able to handle. Good lesson for me, and probably for the best. Advice: Proceed with extreme caution, on both sides."


The second expert is a woman who has regular exposure to Alzheimer's caregivers through her work. She said, "This is a dilemma that will, unfortunately, surely get more common as we Boomers age.


"There is no right or wrong - it is not a 'correct' or 'incorrect' thing.  One thing is for sure - caregiving can be a 24/7 role - and, even with support for the care, it is demanding, exhausting and emotionally draining. The fact that a caregiver often predeceases the one in care proves how hard it is.


"Often, it is one of the loneliest times in a person's life - watching someone they have lived with and loved dearly gradually no longer able to recognize them or really function.


"Many devoted spouses have hungered for the affection and connection with another that might seem inappropriate. But, the reality is that their partner is basically there, just no longer the person they were. The fact that this particular man is caring wonderfully for his wife is the bottom line. Respite care enables him to charge the batteries to keep going.


"This woman sounds genuinely loving and in love - and fully aware of the whole situation...and concerned that the wife be respected and honored.


"In my opinion - it is loving all around. The issue that might be is when others take offense, could be children/other family members/friends who are less able to 'let go' and face the reality as it is. But, the antidote to that would be the evidence of how loving this man still is to his wife. Obviously not flaunting it to anyone who might be uncomfortable seems fair - but they do not seem in that spirit at all.


"Anyone who has been close to having responsibility or caring for someone with Alzheimer's would never begrudge anything that would ease the life of the caretaker."


From what the above two experts say, there is no easy answer to Karen's question. Of course, there are people who strongly believe that marriage is forever, regardless of the situation. When I wrote about the Alzheimer's topic two years ago, I got taken to task by one of my newspaper readers, who said:


"Doesn't anyone believe in 'commitment' anymore? Does the phrase, 'to death do us part' mean anything to anybody?' The Greatest Generation was so great because of its commitment: Committed to God, committed to their marriages...They knew the difference between right and wrong, and they always did the right thing."


Hopefully, this discussion will help Karen and the man's she dating resolve their dilemma. What's your opinion? Have you or are you currently facing a similar situation?

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