Dementia and Romantic Relationships: A New Normal

Juliet Holt Klinger, a gerontologist and Brookdale’s expert on dementia, says families often ask her about dementia and romantic relationships. “I am a strong believer that we could use more tolerance for what we consider ‘normal’ for family relationships,” she says. “But the moral and ethical questions for those dealing with a marriage that involves dementia persist.”

Living in the moment

Last year, in several self-disclosing social media posts and interviews, Dan Gasby, the husband and full-time care partner to B. Smith, iconic restaurateur and television personality, shared his new normal with the world. He, his wife and his girlfriend spent time together in the same home, and Dan’s girlfriend, Alex Lerner, assisted him with day-to-day care partnering duties for B during her visits.

Maybe not surprisingly, the public’s response to this news ranged from accusing Dan of adultery to supporting his relationship as he moved on with his life. Smith no longer recognized her husband or her daughter, nor did she understand the context of her husband’s relationship with Alex. She lived, like many people in the later stages of the disease, in the moment. (Sadly, B passed away in February 2020 at age 70.)

Juliet applauds Dan for sharing his unique family structure with the world. “It opens up the conversation to other families who are dealing with the same issue. I believe this is a personal subject, and only those directly involved have a right to say what works for them. It’s not a role to judge. It is our responsibility to offer compassionate care and support.”

Love comes in in different shapes and sizes

There are also stories of people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia forming new relationships. In 2007, the New York Times article “Love in the Time of Dementia” spotlighted  former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and her husband’s story.  

At the time, her husband was living with Alzheimer’s and became romantically involved with another woman in his assisted living community. Instead of becoming frustrated, Sandra embraced her new normal. She said she was happy when she visited the couple, because it was a relief to see her husband so content.

“She reminds us that love comes in many shapes and sizes,” Juliet says. “Relationships often have to bend to meet the changing needs of one of the people involved.”

If you or your family are facing a dementia diagnosis, or you want to learn more about how to help support those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, we can help. Click here for more articles on Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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