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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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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.

Alzheimer's and New Bonds in a Nursing Home continued...

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."

Still, there's a silver lining, and that is in knowing that your loved one has found some comfort, even if it's with another person.

"As a spouse, you have to remember that it's not that your husband or wife is rejecting you, or that they don't care about you anymore, but they lack the ability to recognize these memories or their feelings," says Powers. "It's the disease; it's not personal."

For the children of Alzheimer's patients, struggling to come to grips with not only their parent's disease, but also their parent's new companion in the nursing home, can be just as devastating.

"Sometimes adult children can have a harder time with it than the spouse," says Schempp. "It's difficult to deal with feeling like your mom or dad has been replaced."

As a spouse or a child, it's important to come to grips with the disease and how it affects a person's brain and body.

"Alzheimer's patients need social connections and bonds just like everyone else," says Reed. "They can still form new connections, but the behavioral and emotional changes they are experiencing mean they respond and react to their new -- and old -- connections in different ways."

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