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Love and Dementia: How to Support a Couple Coping With Memory Loss

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
4 minute readLast updated February 12, 2024

When you’re caring for aging parents, a dementia diagnosis affects everyone involved. A dementia diagnosis like Alzheimer’s disease can be particularly challenging for your parents, but it also places additional responsibilities on you as their caregiver. Memory loss disrupts shared memories and routines, requiring new approaches to communication and additional support. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to assist your aging parent with memory loss.

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What it’s like living with a spouse with cognitive impairment

Gilva Kaufmann has been married to her husband, George, for decades. However, since George developed dementia and received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis shortly after, their relationship has changed significantly.
“He’s here, but he’s not here,” Gilva says. “His doctor said he’s terminal . . . I can’t believe it. It’s so painful.”
Couples like the Kaufmanns face major challenges when one partner has dementia, leading to stress and grief as shared memories fade away. Yet dementia affects each person differently, making it hard to generalize. Whether a person is learning to adjust to living with a spouse with mild cognitive impairment or severe dementia, each family’s needs will be different. Learning how to deal with a spouse with memory loss requires patience, understanding, and compassion. Caregivers and couples should focus on preserving the connection that remains while adapting to the new reality that a dementia diagnosis brings.

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Common challenges for couples with dementia

Though every couple will face unique challenges in their journey with dementia, some common challenges arise. To assist your parents, it’s important to be aware of and prepared for these obstacles so you can overcome them together.

1. Added responsibilities

As symptoms of dementia start to affect one spouse’s capabilities, the other often takes on more housekeeping and caregiving tasks.
How you can help: Encourage the healthier spouse to seek support from family members, a church community, or health care professionals. Consider options like in-home care or assisted living to prevent the unaffected partner from becoming the sole caregiver, nurse, and housekeeper.
For Gilva and George, the support they’ve received has been invaluable.
“Some friends of mine come here to help,” Gilva explains. “My sister called me the other day and talked to George. It meant a lot.”
Both George and Gilva also benefit from regular visits by a nurse, social worker, music therapist, and rabbi. These outside sources of support help the Kaufmanns maintain their relationship and live comfortably, despite the challenges of memory loss.

2. Potential decline in health for the spousal caregiver

The stress and demands of daily caregiving can lead to caregiver burnout, negatively impacting their mental and physical health.
How you can help: Dealing with dementia as a spouse can be overwhelming. To alleviate this burden from your parents, offer respite care.[01] Spend one-on-one time with your parent with dementia at least once or twice a week or dedicate specific time every weekend to visiting with them. These breaks provide the spousal caregiver momentary relief and allow them time to attend to their needs, run errands, join support groups, or do something fun like see a movie.
Gilva emphasizes that family caregivers must prioritize their own health and happiness to effectively care for their partners.
“I take care of myself a lot because [George] needs me,” Gilva explains. “He always took care of me, and now I take care of him… The other day, I said goodnight to him, and he [grabbed] my arm and said, ‘We stick together.’”

3. Personality changes

When one partner undergoes personality changes, loses confidence, or behaves unpredictably due to dementia, both partners must adapt to a new normal.
How you can help: Stay engaged and include the couple in social activities and family events. Maintaining the relationship may require extra effort, but committing to communicating with someone with dementia and involving them in activities can restore a sense of normalcy. Most importantly, listen when your loved one wants to talk and encourage them to maintain a positive outlook.
As Gilva explains, one of the best ways to cope with a dementia diagnosis involves “enjoying each moment.” She shares pictures with George and reminisces about “the best times we had together” and their shared memories as a couple. Despite George’s fading recollections, Gilva and her family keep the love alive.

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How to further support your loved ones affected by dementia

For a couple affected by dementia, small actions from family and friends can have a big impact. Offering respite care to spousal caregivers or spending time with your parents with dementia provides assistance and assurance. Every moment of support serves as a testament to the power of community, showcasing that supporting a spouse with dementia can be met with resilience and grace.
If caring for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia is getting harder, don’t be afraid to consider more support. Contact a Senior Care Advisor to learn more about local in-home care or memory care services that can provide the best possible care for your loved one, all at no cost to you or your family.


  1. National Institute on Aging. (2023, October 12). What is respite care?

Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

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