Being told that your husband, wife or long-term partner has dementia can be incredibly upsetting and frightening. But try not to despair – there are ways to make caring for the person you love a bit easier than you might think.

You’ve been together for years. But now the person you love and respect as an equal has been diagnosed with dementia and suddenly all your hopes, dreams and plans for the future are in doubt.

There’s no denying that caring for a partner with dementia is going to be difficult, at times very painful, and that your relationship and the roles you play, will inevitably change.

Your changing relationship

Coming to terms with their dementia diagnosis can take longer than you might think. After all, it’s not just an illness you’re learning to adjust to, it’s also the change in your relationship which is often the toughest part for anyone who’s partner has dementia. You used to be a team who made decisions together and shared mutual concerns. Now you’re bound to worry that you’ll have to shoulder more responsibilities.

How you might feel

Shock: If the diagnosis came out of the blue (after a stroke, a sudden illness or a fall perhaps) the shock could leave you reeling. But even if you’ve suspected they may have dementia for quite some time, (the signs and symptoms often creep up slowly over many months or even years) being given a formal diagnosis can still come as a big shock. It’s no longer a ‘what if.’ It’s happened.

Worry: Your list of worries is probably very long, including; how will we manage financially? What if I can’t cope? I don’t know anything about dementia, I’m not patient enough to deal with it…

Anger: Why me? Why us? What did we do to deserve such a cruel illness?

Sadness: I’m losing him/her. They’re forgetting all the precious times we’ve shared together. Soon they’ll forget me too.

It’s complicated

A long-term relationship is hard work. You know each other inside out, but that means you also know how to irritate each other too. A dementia diagnosis (and the months leading up to it) can be a particularly stressful time, especially if your relationship has been through rocky patches or if you’re still harbouring resentments for something that happened a while back.

Could this be YOU?

Maybe your partner’s increasing forgetfulness really annoys you, maybe you find his behaviour hurtful, even though you know he can’t help it. Maybe you feel that you’ve already lost the person you married but are ‘going through the motions’ because you feel duty bound to care for him. Resentment is normal and understandable. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you.

Caring for a partner with dementia: What can help

Learn about dementia – you may think that knowing more about dementia and what the future might hold will only depress you…But it could make managing some of the symptoms of dementia more manageable.

Ask for support – and take it when it’s offered. Whether it’s from friends, family an online support group or a professional, say goodbye to that brave face and accept all the help you can get.

Keep a sense of humour – you’ll need it and it will definitely help you cope. Humour is a great way to ease tension, and if you can laugh together…all the better.

What DOESN’T help

Thinking you can manage everything on your own – you can’t. In fact, it could make you ill.

A new kind of relationship

This isn’t easy, but many people find that once they’ve had a chance to grieve for the relationship they’ve lost, they’re able to adjust and accept a new kind of relationship with their partner. Your roles may have changed, and your future together may look very different, but if you can focus on what you can still do together and enjoy living ‘in the moment’ as much as possible, life may not always feel quite so difficult.