Elaine had Alzheimer’s and was in the memory care of the facility where I held my weekly picture communication workshops. Elaine thought she was a teenager and had forgotten she was married with two grown children. She had a crush on one of the other residents and called him her “boyfriend.”

Elaine and her boyfriend would often hold hands and walk the hallways giggling and whispering to each other. They would continuously seek each other out even though the facility tried to keep them apart. The boyfriend was also married, and both families were very upset about this relationship.

This situation is understandable. A person with dementia is subject to their emotions, and in a facility, they often feel lost, frightened, and alone. Developing a love attachment to another resident can alleviate these feelings. Unlike the occasional visit from the family or spouse, the person they have attached to is there every day. They can share time throughout the day, and the feelings of familiarity with this person enable them to feel less alone, allowing for contentment with their situation.

Whenever we fall in love, dopamine is released in the brain, and MRI research reveals this lights up the pleasure centers. Love makes everything around us seem beautiful. For the person with dementia, this is also true. Actually, this relationship helps both parties to be happy and feel safe and secure having each other.

Unfortunately, family and spouses usually don’t feel this way. Although many admit their loved one forgot who they were and became a stranger long before admitting them to the facility they don’t want them to form a love relationship with someone else.

The problem is keeping them apart creates distress, and even if they don’t know who they are missing, they have feelings of having lost something or someone. In the confines of the facility, they will eventually encounter each other and instinctually be drawn together. If they are forcefully separated, there’s more stress.

Every situation is different, and I can understand the upset the family feels, however, why not let this be? The facility will make sure there is no intimate sexual contact, so why not allow them to hold to hands and be together if this comforts them. After all, they have struggled with the chaos of dementia for years, and they no longer remember their previous life. Should the family put their own feelings aside and consider allowing this if it gives their loved one happiness?

I’ve known of several situations where the husband or wife of the person in the facility developed a love relationship apart from their loved one with dementia. They still visit their spouse, but they needed life with someone else in it. This doesn’t mean they feel less love for their loved ones.

Romantic attachments among residents is a dilemma. Should this be allowed by both facility and family?

What do you think?


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