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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

The Emotional Toll of Alzheimer's

When Alzheimer's patients build new bonds in a nursing home, it can have a serious impact on a family.
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Alzheimer's and New Bonds in a Nursing Home continued...

"Alzheimer's patients, even in the nursing-home setting, based on my observation of their behavior, continue to search for companionship and friendship," says Powers, associate professor or pathology and neurology at the University of Alabama.

But is it just companionship and friendship they're looking for, or could it be love?

Powers explains that when two healthy people fall in love, they know who they are, and who the other person is; each individual is able to access all the chronological information in their lives and make a decision about whether he or she is emotionally devoted to the other person.

That may not be the case for people with Alzheimer's, and drawing a distinction between their ability to form a bond and their ability to "fall in love" is important.

"You have to be careful about saying 'falling in love' when you're talking about people with advanced stages of Alzheimer's whose disease requires them to have nursing-home care," says Powers. "Falling in love requires memory, communication, reason, decision making -- and Alzheimer's patients no longer have many of these capabilities."

While two people with Alzheimer's disease in a nursing home may form a new bond, and express it by holding hands and sitting together on a couch, whether or not it's love as society knows it is arguable. Still, Powers explains that the connection probably makes each person feel more comfortable and secure in his or her strange surroundings.

But importantly, what impact does the connection have if one of the patients is married?

How Alzheimer's Affects Families

"When a person with Alzheimer's is placed in a nursing home, the separation anxiety is real for his or her spouse," says Reed.

To compound the matter, when the Alzheimer's patient's ability to recognize his spouse dwindles, and he makes a new connection with someone at the nursing home to fill the void, it can make the anxiety almost unbearable.

"A spouse is going to feel abandoned and replaced," says Donna Schempp, LCSW, program director of the Family Caregiver Alliance. "I think that some of the grief they are feeling will now have a face. You've already lost that person because of the cognitive impairment, but now you've truly lost them because they don't know who you are and they are giving their affection to someone else."

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