Finding New Love in Memory Care?

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A short story from my time working as a Dementia Care Director at my first building

They sat, holding hands, talking softly in his room. 

Matthew and Sara are a new couple. Both of them have lived in our community for quite a while, but it seems as though, suddenly, they’ve noticed each other. 

They both have dementia, but they’re near the same cognitive level. You could talk to one of them for a few minutes, and it may take you a bit to realize that the person you’re speaking to is cognitively impaired.

Relationships happen all of the time in senior living. In dementia care communities, it’s perhaps even more common, and sometimes more challenging. Sometimes it can be difficult to know when a relationship is consensual, especially if one partner is significantly more advanced into his or her dementia. 

In this relationship, however, both parties are more than happy to be together. Sara used to walk down the hallways alone, but now Matthew is always by her side. Matthew used to stay in his room, but now he can be found in common areas and joining outings. If you’re looking for one of them, you’re looking for both of them. 

I walked by Sara’s room yesterday and noticed that her family was visiting. She took Matthew’s hand and patted it gently.

Sara looked at her children and made a brave announcement. 

“This is my…new friend, Matthew,” she said, grinning. 

Her two adult children looked at each other knowingly. “It’s really nice to meet you, Matthew,” her son offered.

Relationships between people living with dementia can be a real source of anxiety and concern for families. In many cases, though, there is nothing to be concerned about. The above story illustrates how beautiful a moment can be when all parties agree to agree: there was no pushback, no “but mom!” moments, and no hesitation to accept the new couple.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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