Love, Care and Relationships: Ways for Families Affected by Alzheimer’s to Reconnect on Valentine’s Day and Throughout the Year
With Valentine’s Day approaching, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering helpful information about ways families affected by Alzheimer’s disease can celebrate the love and care they have for one another and strengthen their relationships.
“Love and care are important to all of us,” said Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., AFA’s president and CEO. “When Alzheimer’s disease enters someone’s life, it can change many things, including their relationships. Being adaptable and open to change can help families affected by Alzheimer’s disease find alternative ways to express love, show support and connect with one another on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year.”
AFA offers the following suggestions to help families affected by Alzheimer’s disease strengthen the bonds of love and care throughout the year:
- Find ways to reconnect. While you may not be able to do everything you did with your loved one before, there are ways to maintain, restore or recreate intimacy, love and connection. Eating together, watching a movie, looking at old photos or just taking a walk are all ways to help stay connected. Nonverbal cues, such as gentle touching, smiles and eye contact are all ways to “stay connected” with someone who may no longer be able to verbalize their emotions as they had before.
- Know the person’s “love languages.” Love languages describe various ways people give and receive love. These include physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. Knowing the person’s love language helps the caregiver act in ways that help the person feel supported and loved based on their unique preferences.
- Be adaptable. Things you may have done frequently with your loved one before Alzheimer’s disease may now be difficult or impossible. Focus on what the person can do now, rather than dwelling on what they cannot, and be willing to adapt your relationship to the “new normal.” For example, if traveling is something you enjoyed together before but can no longer do, consider bringing a destination to them. For example, instead of going to Italy, have an Italian-themed night with Italian food, music, pictures and/or movies.
- Redefine the roles. Relationship roles change as Alzheimer’s disease progresses and the person living with it becomes more and more dependent on others for help. The stress and added responsibilities of caregiving can make the person’s spouse or significant other feel more like a care taker or aid, rather than a partner; that the relationship has become one-sided and transactional in nature. At the same time, the person living with the disease may resent not being able or allowed to handle prior responsibilities (i.e. cooking, paying bills or managing finances). Be open to change. Don’t hesitate to ask for, and accept, help and support from outside sources, such as relatives, friends, a local church or professional care agency.
- Express your emotions; even the negative ones. Being an Alzheimer’s caregiver, together with watching the disease change someone you love and your relationship with that person, can be stressful and overwhelming. Sadness, frustration, anger and even resentment are all emotions someone can experience. Having constructive outlets to deal with those feelings is important. Support groups can offer caregivers a non-judgmental place to freely share their feelings, especially those they may not feel comfortable discussing with a relative or friend. AFA offers telephone based support groups, and can also provide referrals to in-person support groups across the country, through its National Toll-Free Helpline. AFA’s social workers are also available through the helpline to provide one-on-one counseling and support. They can be reached at 866-232-8484, seven days a week.
Families who have questions, need information or are looking for support can speak with one of AFA’s licensed social workers by calling AFA’s Helpline at 866-232-8484 or connecting through the Internet at www.alzfdn.org. The helpline is open seven days a week (9 am to 9 pm ET on weekdays and 9 am to 1 pm ET on weekends).