At what stage of dementia should I place my wife in a home?

Alerojim asked...

I think putting my wife, who has dementia, in a care home will be the hardest thing I will ever have to do. Can you tell me, at what stage of her dementia will I have to do this? She is on a walker. I give her all medications and she can neither read, write nor hold a conversation. For me, the physical work is not bad; however, the mental stress is hard. I do not know how much longer I can hold on to her. Please advise.

Expert Answer

Deborah Cooke is a gerontologist specializing in dementia, delirium, caregiving, and senior fitness. She is a certified dementia care provider and specialist through the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Cooke currently manages several multidisciplinary programs to enhance well-being for hospitalized seniors and other vulnerable patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She also serves on the board of NewYork-Presbyterian's Patient and Family Education Advisory Committee. She has 18 years of experience working with the aging and caregiver communities.

You are right. Putting your wife in a care home likely will be the hardest thing you will ever do. Unfortunately, there is no easy, right or wrong, answer. My short answer is to follow your gut and allow your self to be with your wife as a husband, not as a caregiver. Unfortunately, this may be at the cost of not living in the same house.

Feeling guilty about your feelings and decisions is natural. You are very committed to your wife and this will not change. She needs you and you need her. However, at some point alternative living situations may be necessary and it sounds like you may have reached that point. Sometimes we have to "give up" the caregiver role in order to be with each other as husband and wife. Your love for her will not change regardless of your decision.

A movie was made in the last few years called "Away from Her" with Julie Christie. The couple in the story faces a similar situation and the intensity of the difficult decision and transition is very clear. Given the closeness of your experience, I don't really recommend watching the movie. You may find it very difficult and personal. My point is that simply making a movie about this demonstrates that thousands of people face these difficult decisions and emotions (e.g., loss and grief) everyday. You are not alone and your love for her will never change.