More than six million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in 2021, according to figures by the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institutes of Health. When these individuals require more care than loved ones can provide at home, their spouses, children, or other caretakers often face feelings of guilt when transitioning them to a memory care community.
That is the situation Garry W., husband of Marcia, faced in 2017, when he realized that Marcia would likely be safer and more comfortable as a resident at Villa at Terracina Grand in Naples, Florida. Although he knew he’d be able to see her and visit her often, it was difficult knowing they wouldn’t be living in the same place. “I have been with Marcia for over 30 years, being as close as any two people could be,” said Garry. “It’s very difficult to suddenly say I am not going to be with you anymore.”
When you have a loved one with dementia, guilt is a natural part of the process. It’s common to wonder if you could have kept them at home longer or question yourself on what you could have done differently. “Even though I had experience seeing Marcia’s mother with dementia, and her father coping with it, it’s a very different experience when you are dealing with it yourself,” said Garry.
“Most people have guilt because they can’t help think, ‘Why did this happen to her instead of me?” said Garry. For many individuals like Garry, it can be challenging to continue living and enjoying their lives without the partner who is struggling with the disease. “[I felt that] Marcia is over there, I shouldn’t be having a good time,” Garry explained. Then he realized that's not what she would want.
HAVING A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE AND BEING KIND TO YOURSELF
Above all, Garry found greater comfort when he realized that Marcia was safe and cared for. He also started considering the perspective of how he would have felt if the roles had been reversed.
“What would I want for her if I was the one in here with Alzheimer's?” said Garry. “I would want her to be living.” He frequently reminds himself that Marcia would also feel that way if she could speak and express herself freely.
Garry encourages individuals living in his situation to be kind to themselves and take the days one at a time. “The biggest thing you can do is to lighten up on yourself,” said Garry. “There is no school for this, nobody knows how to do this. You just do what you feel is right for yourself and your loved one.”
Editor’s Note - This article originally published in August 2017 and was updated in November 2021.