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Posted: October 19, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

Last Week's 'Sex and Intimacy' Column Hit Home

Bill Andrew

I seem to have struck a chord with many spousal caregivers in my last column, titled How Caregiving Changes the Roles of Sex and Intimacy.

In it, I discussed why intimacy was important in any normal relationship and why it was critical in any relationship affected by caregiving, especially spousal caregiving. I also discussed the changes from sexual intimacy between spouses to other forms of intimacy, such as touch. Experts agree that sexual intimacy is one of the most difficult aspects of spousal caregiving. However, intimacy means much more than sex; simply put, it lives beyond the doors of the bedroom.

Dealing with this loss of sexual intimacy is often intimidating and difficult for many spousal caregivers. Developing other forms of intimacy and implementing them is a challenge to any spousal caregiver -- male or female. I’ve been hearing from readers about the points I made in that column, and this week I want to share with you one comment I received from a spousal caregiver.

Here’s what the reader, Robert H. from Connecticut, had to say:

Dear Bill,

I have read your position concerning your wife. You have my prayers. I am 79years young and my wife is 75. She has had Alzheimer’s for the last few years and is now in the severe stage. I agree with you heartily about love for one another going much deeper than sexuality. Touching, dancing, singing are now her life and mine, as I bath her in the morning and prepare her meals, dress her and also do the things in the house I used to take for granted that they were her things for her to do.

I realize that I have become a different person, and sex has really nothing to do with it. I do not think she would understand what I would be trying to do, and I am very thankful that she does respond to the touching and petting experience. It is difficult for people who do not live the life of a caregiver to really understand the meaning of caregiving.

I am not sure what will happen next as the ravages of the disease continue. My earnest fear is what will happen to her if something happens to me. I think that thought must be in all of the people whose spouse is affected, and I am sure many are in the same situation I am in, where the family recognizes that there is something wrong but does not want to get involved for the main reason that they are too busy having a life of their own.

Well, Bill, I just thought I would share my thoughts with you. Talking to someone who understands is winning half the battle. Thank you for lending an ear.


Well said, Robert. It is obvious that you and I are on the same wavelength regarding the role intimacy plays as we spousal caregivers continue our battle to provide quality care for our loved ones. Yes, our lives have changed significantly, as have the lives of our spouses. You said three things that I think are important for all spousal caregivers to remember.

The first was: "It is difficult for people who do not live the life of a caregiver to really understand the meaning of caregiving." I agree with that statement 100%. Unless you have been there and done that, you can not really appreciate what it means to be a caregiver -- especially a 24/7 caregiver and, most especially, a 24/7 spousal caregiver. That is why it is so difficult for non-caregivers to fully appreciate what we spousal caregivers do each and every day with dedication and commitment.

The second was: ". . . the family recognizes that there is something wrong but does not want to get involved for the main reason that they are too busy having a life of their own." This is so true, and Robert is not alone in this feeling. Much has been written about "where have all my family and friends gone?" Perhaps the reason that family and friends do not want to get involved is because they do not really know how to handle the situation. This is where a support group can help a spousal caregiver deal with the apparent rejection by their family and friends.

The third was: "I realize that I have become a different person, and sex has really nothing to do with it." None of us wanted this job that we inherited by default. It just so happens that we have become the caregiver and not the other way around. We have all become "different persons" because of this role change. You are right -- sex does not have anything to do with it. Our commitment to our marriage vows, however, has everything to do with it! We are who we are by the grace of God.

The bottom line is that, as spousal caregivers, we must recognize that the intimacy we experienced early in our marriages has changed due to the illness or disability of our spouse. We must adapt to the current situation, and while sexual intimacy worked in the early days, human touch intimacy may be the order of the day in these latter days. Robert has found that to be the case, and so have I.

If you would like to share your thoughts regarding the above with other readers of this column, drop me a line at


"God doesn't require us to succeed;

He only requires that we try."

Blessed Mother Teresa (1910-97)

Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at

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