Intimacy, Affairs, and the Brain

I read with some interest a recent article in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, November 3, 2009 about caregivers of spouses with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) who find new companions for love. The article questioned whether such behavior could be considered adultery?

We have nearly 5 million Americans with AD and at least that many at risk. The number of those with AD will likely continue to grow to as many as 15 million by 2050. A recent survey reported there will be nearly 35 million with AD across the planet. Many of those suffering AD are married and the healthy spouse can serve the role of caregiver for many years, including a significant amount of time when their spouse with AD no longer recognizes them. The role of caregiver is difficult and ripe with emotional, physical, and financial stress. The article in the Wall Street Journal raises another stressor which is the idea that the healthy spouse may be without intimacy, love, and companionship for many years.

It is nearly impossible to understand how emotionally difficult it must be to care for a spouse with AD. Some describe AD as two deaths, one when you are told about the diagnosis and the second with the actual physical death of your loved one. Along the course of AD, a spouse will no longer recognize his or her partner. A healthy spouse who provides care to their partner with AD is vulnerable to loneliness, depression, and ongoing loss. How does one cope with loss of the emotional connection or loss of love in the traditional sense when your spouse is physically still present?

The Journal article raises many thoughts and ideas that do not have easy answers. I think it points out that we need to support even more our caregivers who dedicate so much of their time to their spouses with AD.