Relationship intimacy in older couples when one partner has mild cognitive impairment: A qualitative study

Tal Barak, Inbar Levkovich, Liat Ayalon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: In this research, we examine perceptions of couple relationships and intimacy among older couples when one partner is diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), based on ambiguous loss theory. Background: Many studies have examined couples with one partner affected by dementia, yet few have explored intimacy when the affected partner is diagnosed with MCI. Method: A qualitative-phenomenological approach in which data were collected through in-depth, semistructured, face-to-face interviews with 16 men and women aged 67–90. Results: The nondiagnosed partners live in the present while acknowledging the changes caused by aging and the diagnosis. In contrast, the diagnosed partners tend to live in the past. In line with ambiguous loss theory, the nondiagnosed partners reported that their diagnosed spouses are physically present yet many aspects of their personalities are partially absent. Conclusion: The findings reveal two patterns of coping with the consequences of loss. Understanding these relationships offers insights into how to care for individuals with MCI. Implications: The results highlight that individuals with MCI and their partners do not invariably constitute a homogenous group, necessitating a critical appraisal of partners' roles and expectations before initiating therapeutic interventions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFamily Relations
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Family Relations published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of National Council on Family Relations.


  • aging
  • ambiguous loss
  • cognitive impairment
  • couple relations
  • health aging
  • intimacy
  • late life


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