Background: Sexuality and intimacy in couples in which one partner is affected by dementia has been widely researched. Few studies have explored these issues in couples where one partner is affected by mild memory impairment (MMI) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The objectives of this study were to (1) identify and contrast issues of intimacy and sexuality that spousal caregivers of persons with MMI and dementia may experience, and (2) identify future lines of research in this population.
Methods: Fourteen dementia and nine MMI spousal caregivers participated in focus groups conducted between 2008 and 2009 at the Stanford/VA Alzheimer's Research Center. Content analyses were conducted to identify themes.
Results: Five themes emerged: communication, marital cohesion, affectional expression, caregiver burden, and ambiguity concerning the future of the relationship. Dementia caregivers reported more difficulties with communication, cohesion, and perceptions of increased burden than their MMI counterparts. Both groups indicated reduced sexual expression due to physical limitations; substitute activities including hand-holding, massaging, and hugging were noted. Both groups reported difficulty anticipating the future of the relationship due to present stressors. While dementia caregivers could consider future romantic relationships with others, MMI caregivers were primarily able to consider future relationships only for companionship and emotional intimacy.
Conclusion: Early therapeutic interventions may assist couples in modifying activities, behaviors, and expectations about the future of the relationship. Such modifications may help maintain relationship satisfaction, decrease burden, preserve quality of life, and delay time-to-placement. Extending time-to-placement could have cost savings implications for families and the healthcare system.