When a Spouse Goes to the Nursing Home

Even as the signals of approaching dementia became impossible to ignore, Joseph Drolet dreaded the prospect of moving his partner into a long-term care facility.

Mr. Drolet, 79, and his beloved Rebecca, 71, both retired lawyers and prosecutors in Atlanta, had been a couple for 33 years, though they retained separate homes. In 2019, she began getting lost while driving, mishandling her finances and struggling with the television remote. The diagnosis — Alzheimer’s disease — came in 2021.

Over time, Mr. Drolet moved Rebecca (whose surname he asked to withhold to protect her privacy) into his home. But serving as her round-the-clock caregiver, as she needed help with every daily task, became exhausting and untenable. Rebecca began wandering their neighborhood and “getting dressed in the middle of the night, preparing for trips that weren’t happening,” Mr. Drolet recalled.

Last year, when he determined that Rebecca no longer really knew where she was, he felt it was time to move her to a nearby memory-care residence.

Putting a spouse or partner in a nursing home, for any reason, represents a fraught transition for a couple, one that can mean release from the sometimes crushing burden of caregiving, but can also be accompanied by lingering depression, anxiety and guilt, studies have shown.

“That everything was on my shoulders for the care of a very vulnerable person — that stress left,” Mr. Drolet said. After Rebecca left, “the 24-hour duties could be taken by somebody else.” His constant fear of what would happen to Rebecca if he died or became disabled also abated.

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