Alzheimer's and the 'Other Woman'

Q. When I went to visit my husband at his assisted living facility, he didn’t seem to know who I was, which has happened before. But what’s worse is that he was smiling lovingly and holding hands with the woman who lives in the room next to him. We’ve been married for nearly 50 years. Am I wrong to feel devastated?

A. One of the most painful experiences can be realizing that your spouse no longer recognizes you or has formed a relationship with someone else. In reality, the number of individuals with Alzheimer’s who start relationships outside of marriage is small, though it appears to be a natural instinct if the person no longer recognizes his or her lifelong mate. Be reassured that intimacy among people with Alzheimer’s usually goes no further than holding hands.

However, these new connections can distress the partner who feels rejected or replaced.

Keep in mind that individuals with advanced Alzheimer’s disease are living in the moment since they can’t access the past— so they reach out to the people who are immediately around them. Neurological impairments can make Alzheimer’s patients unable to maintain long-term relationships, even the new ones that develop. Also note that when people with Alzheimer’s start spending time with new companions, they usually don’t push their families away.

Believe it or not, you may eventually reach the point where you’re consoled by knowing that your husband is able to derive some sort of fulfillment from this interpersonal contact.