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Infidelity in Elder Care

When two nursing home residents Art and Frieda started to hold hands, kiss, and generally enjoy one another’s company, family members became livid. Why? Art and Frieda are married, however, not to each other.
When family members tried to intervene by contacting and asking the nursing home staff to prohibit contact between the two, the ethics governing body responded that the autonomy of the couple superseded the wishes of the family. Not only that, but when it came to taking care of the elderly, the staff had no right to keep the two apart nor administer medication to ‘dampen’ their desires. This case, reported from Sweden, reflects that infidelity is a growing problem for senior citizen homes, nursing home staff and nursing home patient family members. How should family members respond to this type of infidelity in marriage?
Family members can help each other by first assessing whether this attraction is due to who Dad really is (talkative, funny, gregarious) or if some personality change has taken place due to the dementia. After the initial shock, families who see Dad spending time with someone in the nursing home who is not his wife often report how happy he looks and how much joy they seem to share. If a personality change has occurred the attraction may be a reflection of this different personality and not a reflection of the dad they love and remember.
If a cognitive deficit has taken place (long term memory loss) then families must consider: if we cannot recall past promises are we morally bound by them? Many poignant movies have been written about an individual successfully wooing his partner who has forgotten her vows due to brain injury or dementia.
This is a romantic portrayal, however, and the reality is spouses of unfaithful dementia patients feel betrayed. Emotional distress increases if Dad has had a history of infidelity. Family members can respond to this by supporting Mom, one another, and getting outside help if needed.

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