Published in Blog by Andrew Balfour on May 12th 2023
Andrew Balfour, CEO of Tavistock Relationships, the charity helping individuals and couples to have better relationships, explains how the charity’s ‘Living Together with Dementia’ service supports people with dementia, and their partners, to harness their relationship as a protective force, helping them to cope with the condition.
Studies show the quality of the couple relationship is of vital importance in dementia, with better relationships linked to slower cognitive and social deterioration on the part of the person with dementia, and a reduced likelihood of moving to institutional care.
According to a report by the Public Accounts Committee, carers of people with dementia save the taxpayer more than £5 billion a year. But many carers do not get the support they need and many feel abandoned after the diagnosis.
The partners in couples living with dementia are likely to be elderly, they may be physically frail themselves and the burden of their role often causes stress, depression, anxiety, and poorer physical health. In such couples, relationship quality usually declines over time, as dementia reduces opportunities for shared activities, communication, intellectual stimulation, decision-making, and emotional and physical closeness between partners.
We know that the couple relationship can be a tremendous resource, able to provide care that is costly to give in institutional settings.
We know that the couple relationship can be a tremendous resource, able to provide care that is costly to give in institutional settings. However, support for the resilience of the couple, and protection of this potential resource, depends upon acknowledging the emotional challenges faced by couples living with dementia.
Here at Tavistock Relationships, we’ve developed an intervention, Living Together with Dementia, which aims to help people with dementia and their partners to manage the trauma of the diagnosis, the loss, and the changes it brings, and to maintain, or recover, protective aspects of their relationship.
We recognise the tremendous challenges facing the carer partner – who might have all kinds of feelings towards their partner with dementia. They might feel compassion and love, but they may also feel resentment, frustration, anger, or hatred. These feelings can arouse guilt or anxiety, and the carer partner may need help and containment from a therapist, who will listen, help to ‘normalise’ such feelings, and, above all, understand and not judge.
Having a mind available to help couples to think and process their feelings, as much as they are able to, can be crucial.
Having a mind available to help couples to think and process their feelings, as much as they are able to, can be crucial. Without it, partners may withdraw from one another, and there is a greater danger of acting out the anger, frustration or other feelings and anxieties.
We work with couples to explore the issues that dementia is bringing to their relationship, and we help them to find new strategies and ways of adjusting to the challenges of living together with dementia.
For more information about Tavistock Relationships Living Together with Dementia service, go to Living Together with Dementia support service for couple relationships.
The ‘Healthcare Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal’ has published an article by Andrew ‘Dementia: caring for the couple’ (April 2023) describing the intervention. Click here to read the full article.
This article first appeared in the April 2023 issue of Healthcare Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal, published by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. ©BACP 2023.