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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Is Romance An Option When Your Spouse Has Alzheimer’s Disease?

Jim Garrett with his fiance, Becky Wells. Garrett began dating Wells after his wife developed Alzheimer's disease. (Photo courtesy of Jim Garrett)

Jim Garrett with his fiance, Becky Wells. Garrett began dating Wells after his wife developed Alzheimer’s disease. (Photo courtesy of Jim Garrett)

The baby boomer generation is beginning to confront Alzheimer’s disease, and for some people that may mean losing a spouse to a disease that robs them of their memory and ultimately their identity.

What happens when your partner is no longer the person you knew — but someone you may care for at home, or who may be institutionalized — can you begin to date other people? Should you look for another companion even though your spouse is still alive?

Jim Garrett confronted this complex situation when his wife developed the disease. She died last year, but even before then, Garrett decided to start dating.

Garrett joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to talk about his situation.

We then turn to Sharon Shaw, a psychologist who runs support groups at the Alzheimer’s Association of New York City, about the difficult decisions caregivers of spouses with Alzheimer’s face.

Interview Highlights: Jim Garrett and Sharon Shaw

Garrett on how his children reacted to his decision to date

“My kids reacted at various levels – my oldest daughter was sympathetic for my loneliness, whereas a couple of the boys didn’t understand why I needed to date.

“And I went to my minister and talked to him about it a little bit and I said I’m being honest and open about this – but I really don’t know what’s right or wrong. And he replied to me, ‘Well, you know, the definition of right and wrong constantly changes but the definition of honesty never does.’ And I thought that was right on.”

Garrett on the concept of “death do us part”

“That is absolutely in my mind a valid question. I think in the case of Alzheimers it’s such an insidious disease that it really takes the person away from you long before the physical death, and so in a way, you’ve lost your spouse — in this case — well before she physically passed away.”

Shaw on how she supports caregivers as they decide whether to date

“As a psychotherapist, I help people to explore this issue, to arrive at something again that feels right for them. But I think this is a value of support groups: because in groups, people are really very non-judgmental. And what we aim for is for caregivers to take care of themselves, and if finding a relationship – a meaningful relationship – while caring for a spouse helps someone to get through this difficult experience; if that works, then that’s a wonderful thing.

“And I also have to say that – again in my experience – no spouse that I know of who has started a relationship outside of their marriage with someone with the disease has abandoned their spouse. They continue to care for them fully and love them fully, while getting on with their own lives in a meaningful way.”


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