In Consultation


In Consultation

When a Partner Has Alzheimer’s: Alternatives to Toughing it Out

July/August 2015


Q:  I have an elderly client whose husband is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). He’s in denial, and she’s having a difficult time planning for his care. How can I best support her?

A:  The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.2 million Americans affected by dementia are over the age 65, which makes the vast majority members of what’s called the traditionalist generation. Understanding this generation’s entrenched values and how they can affect their coping and your intervention can facilitate better outcomes.

Working with the Traditionalist Generation
Nettie is a 76-year-old client who reluctantly contacted me at her daughter’s insistence. Nettie, who’d been married for 50 years, was struggling with how to cope with her husband’s AD. The old phrase “in sickness and in health, till death us do part” is a strongly held value about marriage within the traditionalist generation, and Nettie took the oath literally. She was focusing only on her husband, Sam, and neglecting her own health and well-being.

Traditionalists rarely seek out professional help, so when they do, therapists should immediately acknowledge their willingness to reach out and encourage them to accept that they shouldn’t see themselves as being solely responsible for their spouse’s care. For example, I helped Nettie obtain a more objective understanding of what she could and couldn’t do, which allowed her to begin to set…

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