How does Alzheimer’s Affect Marriages?
“For better, for worse, … in sickness and in health, … till death do us part.” Most of us know the traditional wedding vows. But what if your spouse forgets who they are? Forgets who you are? Forgets that they’re married? Then what? Not every relationship is as picture perfect as Noah and Allie in “The Notebook.” Alzheimer’s changes the structure of a marriage, and for some in more drastic ways than others.
"What if your spouse forgets who they are? Forgets who you are? Forgets that they’re married? Then what?"
Currently there are 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and it is the 6th leading cause of death in the US. Many of those affected are married, and while you are legally allowed to divorce a spouse with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association says most do not. Instead the family rallies around the afflicted person and a spouse often turns into a caretaker. Occasionally though, a new love story forms.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was married to her husband, John O’Connor, for 55 years. His Alzheimer’s got to a point where he had to move into a facility, where he met and fell in love with another woman. Her son said O’Connor didn’t mind as it pulled her husband from his depression and he seemed much happier on their visits. John passed away from the disease in 2009.
Barbara Smith was a famous restaurateur and lifestyle author when she was diagnosed with early onset dementia at 65. She and her husband, Dan Gasby, have been married 27 years. Gasby has recently taken heat by the media because he has moved his girlfriend into the family home to help take care of Smith. He insists Smith told him to move on with his life and that she would approve. Smith has been battling the disease for five years now and Gasby says he will not leave her.
"Currently there are 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and it is the 6th leading cause of death in the US."
Any online search will showcase countless stories of countless marriages where the healthy spouse talks about their significant other suffering from Alzheimer’s. They almost all discuss how becoming a caretaker has taken its toll. Story after story describing the hurt, the frustration, and the exhaustion. Almost every story speaks of love, commitment, and tender moments. Most marriages endure until the bitter end, but it’s no wonder that occasionally another love story comes about.
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