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Changing Roles and Relationships

As Alzheimer's disease progresses, you'll notice changes in your loved one and in the roles you take with each other—as well as with other people in your lives. A once-independent parent may have to rely on his or her son or daughter for a change, and a best friend will need to understand that caring for a newly diagnosed parent takes priority.

While these changes aren't easy, focusing on your partnership with your loved one can help ease the transition. And over time, you will adjust and fall into a role that makes sense and that may help both of you.

Caregiver Insight

Ashley talks about what it was like for her and her loved one after the diagnosis.

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What to Expect After an Alzheimer's Diagnosis

Alzheimer's disease typically progresses slowly, and in most cases you can shift your roles little by little. It will help to stay flexible—as it does for any relationship.

  • Mild Stage of Alzheimer's Disease

    People at this stage of Alzheimer's disease can usually continue in some of their most important roles, with relationships shifting with their ability levels.

    • You may need to take over certain tasks, like managing your loved one's bills or driving them around. Don't hesitate to ask for help.
    • Communication difficulties can make both of you feel lonely and frustrated. Keep talking to each other and get support from friends, family members, and professionals.
    • Tapping into the person's strengths can help them feel independent.
    • Some friends will back away because of the Alzheimer's diagnosis. Focus on strengthening the more supportive, positive relationships in your life and let those others go.
  • Moderate Stage of Alzheimer's Disease

    People at this stage of Alzheimer's disease have more difficulty taking care of themselves, which means a bigger shift in your relationship roles. Flexibility from both of you can help you find a comfortable balance between independence and increased assistance.

    • You'll be taking on more responsibilities and the person with Alzheimer's will be taking on less. Allow others to help you with your new tasks, and help your loved one keep doing things he or she enjoys.
    • At this stage of Alzheimer's disease, you'll manage more of your loved one's daily tasks, such as bathing and dressing. Ask for help if you feel uncomfortable with or overwhelmed by your new responsibilities.
    • When communication becomes difficult, try sharing feelings using simple words and gestures—for example, a hug or a smile.

    Caregiver Insight

    Accepting help from others is a good way to acknowledge the value they bring into your life, and involvement can help them to understand the Alzheimer's experience.

  • Severe Stage of Alzheimer's Disease

    People in this stage of Alzheimer's disease may have lost the ability to speak, and require intense, 24-hour care to help them meet their daily needs. However, you can still communicate and connect with them through sensory experiences involving touch, sound, sight, taste and smell.

    • During this stage, the person with Alzheimer's may lose the ability to walk and may spend most of his or her time in a wheelchair or bed. Focus on helping your loved one as best you can.
    • At this point, you might want to expand your caregiving circle—involve close friends and family members, consider respite care, and have a medical team that can be called when needed.
    • Even if they don't ask outright, friends and family are likely to appreciate suggestions on how to connect with your loved one at this stage. Try walking them through your favorite activities.

    Caregiver Insight

    It can be difficult to do, but adapting to changes and accepting help from others can be a way to acknowledge the value their assistance brings to your life. The more you can be involved, the fewer negative feelings you might have.

  • Mild Stage of Alzheimer's Disease

  • Moderate Stage of Alzheimer's Disease

  • Severe Stage of Alzheimer's Disease

When It's Your Spouse

When the person you love most is the one with Alzheimer's disease, the changes your relationship undergoes can feel all the more devastating—affecting not just your emotional relationship, but the physical relationship you share.

  • Tips for coping and connecting when your spouse is diagnosed with Alzheimer's:

    • Accept that the way you relate and become intimate will change over time.
    • Be open and honest with each other. That way, you can avoid blame and feelings of inadequacy.
    • Keep tabs on how comfortable your loved one is with being touched.
    • Express your closeness in new ways—for example, non-sexual touching or sharing memories about intimate moments.

Youíre not alone. Learn how to ask for help from friends and family or other Alzheimerís caregivers.

Youíre not alone. Learn how to ask for help from friends and family or other Alzheimerís caregivers.

See how your caregiving experience compares with others by filling out this short survey.

See how your caregiving experience compares with others by filling out this short survey.

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