Many of the people I follow on WordPress are dealing with a parent or grandparent with dementia. A few are dealing with a spouse, and with this, comes an entirely different and complex set of issues.
I finally got around to reading the memoir, “Jan’s Story,” by CBS correspondent Barry Petersen. The book has generated some controversy. Petersen’s wife, Jan, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 55. Petersen’s account of how Alzheimer’s impacted their relationship is frank and heartbreaking. After arranging for her care at home for several years, he finally places her in a residential facility as the disease progresses. Eventually, at the point where his wife barely remembers who he is, he begins a tentative new relationship with another woman.
It’s the latter details that many find distasteful. Some of the couple’s friends turn against him, and some readers of his memoir feel he is selfish in his actions.
I certainly do not feel I am in the position to judge other caregivers, as there are many things I would do differently in dealing with my father’s dementia. I think hearing the male perspective is important when it comes to being a caregiver of a spouse with dementia. The breakdown of intimate relations is a side effect of dementia that many would rather not discuss. For Petersen, the loss of intimacy with his beloved partner is devastating. The transformation from lover to parent is traumatic. The difficult decision he makes are agonizing for him and I don’t believe were made on a whim.
The book brings up a host of interesting questions. Especially with early-onset Alzheimer’s, should the caregiver be left in relationship limbo when it may take a decade or more for the disease to finally cause physical death? As long as one provides good care for their spouse, is it acceptable to find affection outside of their relationship?
For some, “until death do you part” means just that, no exceptions. I respect that. But dementia has a way of turning the normal way of doing things upside down.
For those wondering, Jan died in 2013, a few years after the memoir was published.