When Love Blooms: Navigating New Senior Connections

When elderly parents or spouses enter a skilled nursing facility, they are bound to form new friendships. But what happens when that friendship blossoms into something more?

As new romantic relationships form between elderly adults, spouses and adult children can feel betrayed and concerned. If their loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a dementia-related illness, the parent or spouse they once knew will act and react differently than in the past.

What should families know and do to navigate these tricky emotional issues?

According to Allen Brown, executive director of The Nathaniel Witherell, “These love relationships are often hard for adult children and spouses to accept because they involve one spouse ‘letting go’ of the other as they form a new relationship. How difficult that must be for a wife or husband of 50 years or more, especially if they don’t understand the nature of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia-related cognitive decline!”

As Brown notes, spouses and families should recognize that a dementia-involved spouse is not actually abandoning their marital relationship, rather it’s that they no longer understand, remember, or comprehend what the relationship is or was.

“Just as adult children can have difficulty accepting their parents’ divorce, understanding a new dementia-involved love relationship can be a huge emotional strain for involved family members,” adds Brown.

Emotional connections offer the same benefits to the elderly as they do to everyone else—they help ward off loneliness and isolation, and enhance self-esteem. But, if family members have concerns about a spouse or parent’s relationships in skilled nursing, they should seek guidance.

“Social Workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists at nursing homes can help with family support; so can counselors and other community professionals who are familiar with geriatric care issues,” says Brown.

While these emotional issues may be difficult or uncomfortable to navigate, professional guidance can help. With the right support, caretakers can settle into their new role knowing that their loved ones are receiving the best care, guidance, and supervision to enjoy the next chapter of life.

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