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Background: The impact of dementia on relationships, intimacy, and sexuality has been documented in later life couples. However, little is known about the experiences of couples living with younger-onset dementia. The aim of this systematic review was to analyze the literature describing the impact of younger-onset dementia on relationships, intimacy, and sexuality in midlife couples. Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted in July 2016 for relevant research papers. Five databases were searched: Web of Science, PsycINFO, MedLine, Scopus, and CINAHL. A quality appraisal checklist was used to assess the methodological quality of included studies. Results: Eleven studies were identified that explored relationships, intimacy, and sexuality from the perspective of the spouse, the person with dementia or both members of the dyad. Several themes were identified including shifts in roles and responsibilities, declines in relationship quality, changes in identity, and self-esteem, increasing social isolation and loneliness, shifts in intimacy, and changes in sexual activity. Conclusions: Many of the reviewed studies were subject to a range of methodological issues including small sample sizes, small number of studies, and a reliance on the perspective of only one member of the dyad. Future research should follow couples longitudinally to gain a clearer picture of the impact of younger-onset dementia on the couple relationship over time. The inclusion of people living with younger-onset dementia in research will assist in developing a deeper understanding of the experiences of the individual and dyad.


Institute for Health and Ageing

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Journal Article

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