Alzheimer's / Dementia

10/3/2022 | By Amy Dickinson

Having a spouse with advanced dementia can create a sense of isolation that leaves you longing for more. A husband seeks out advice for his growing battle between his loneliness and his desire to keep his vows to his wife whose memory is fading. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson has to say about a husband’s reaction to his wife’s dementia in this edition of “Ask Amy.” 

Dear Amy:

My wife has advanced dementia.

After four years of being her sole caregiver, I had to place her in assisted living memory care last year.

After five months of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication I’ve finally conquered my deep guilt and sense of having failed her.

Time has shown it was the right thing to do. Our 55-year history together and our four children have faded from her memory.

That is the source of my dilemma. Our high school graduating class has a virtual group on social media.

I wrote about my wife’s dementia and my loneliness without her.

Last week I received an email from a woman with whom I had a lengthy, very steamy, lusty affair in 11th grade, suggesting that we might re-establish our acquaintance. We haven’t communicated since we went our separate ways, many decades ago.

I am sorely tempted to accept her suggestion.

I have a photo of us at our prom, my arm around an exceptionally pretty girl in a strapless gown who liked to make out in secluded places. She played my teenage libido like a yo-yo.

I know it’s a fantasy memory. She’s probably gray, wrinkled, and overweight like me. But still …

I haven’t responded yet because I took an oath of fidelity “until death do us part,” which I have honored, despite my wife’s dementia.

But I wonder if her dying brain doesn’t meet that standard?

Am I not entitled to some happiness, even as my wife descends into a deepening fog?

Can you help me?

Extremely Conflicted Husband

Dear Conflicted:

Man staring at camera. Image by Fizkes, Dreamstime. A dementia spouse battles loneliness and the desire to keep his vows during his wife’s dementia. See what Amy Dickinson says in “Ask Amy.”

Your decision to place your wife in a memory care facility was so agonizing that it sent you into a serious depression. You were wise to seek therapy and treatment.

If you override your own values and respond to this assertive advance, your mental health would likely be affected. Discuss this in therapy (use your therapy to discuss your choices in advance, versus responding to events after the fact).

Communicating with old friends from high school will help you to reconnect with the man you once were, before this disease took so much from your family.

But any person who would respond to your report of grief and loneliness by immediately implying a sexual reconnection is once again “playing your libido like a yo-yo.”

Elder libido is strikingly similar to teenage libido. The rush of attraction feels dangerous and wild.

As long as you don’t abandon your wife, I don’t view this situation as adultery, but I believe that your emotional needs would best be served by a relationship that is supportive, kind, and careful.

Yes, you absolutely deserve some happiness, but you should be discerning about where you are most likely to find it.

This might be the kind of trouble you long for right now, but keep in mind that any relationship you engage in could have far-reaching consequences for your entire family.

Want to get even more dementia tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from a husband’s struggle during his wife’s dementia to grandparenting to DNA surprises. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. 

© 2022 by Amy Dickinson

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