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How Dementia Caregivers can Help Overcome the Grief of a Loved One’s Decline

Grieving can be a highly personal and complicated experience when a loved one is faced with dementia.

Caring for a loved one with dementia, unfortunately, involves watching your loved one slowly decline. This process can be frustrating because, although you want to do everything you can to slow the progression of the disease or stop the disease from spreading, there is nothing you can do. Learn to be in the moment with your loved one and cherish each moment you have with him or her.

The journey of caring for someone with dementia is a difficult one, and the grieving process will be different for each person. Those who have lost someone to dementia will tell you that the grief is as disordered as the progression of the disease itself. Losing a person to a heart attack, for example, can result in loved ones experiencing the classic pattern of grief with well-studied stages:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

A caregiver who has lost someone to dementia may have already been through depression and acceptance while their loved one was alive, making grieving a more complicated process.

Grief counselors say the stages of grief form a structure of sorts that help us come to grips with the fact that we have lost someone we love. The journey through these stages helps us move forward and learn to live without them. Each person progresses through the stages differently and at different times, but all of that can change drastically after losing a loved one to dementia.

Dementia involves a continuous sense of loss

Losing a loved one to dementia is more complicated because it is a long, slow journey with multiple losses along the way. The cognitive losses associated with dementia often force caregivers to grieve losing pieces of their loved one on a daily basis.

When death finally comes, the caregiver may experience a sense of relief. However, the relief may also be accompanied by a deep sense of guilt.

These are just some of the reasons why the grief associated with losing a loved one to dementia is confusing and complicated. Here are some ways that dementia caregivers can overcome the grief associated with watching a loved one’s slow decline:

  • Don’t bury your feelings. Experience all your feelings fully, whether they are positive or negative. The more you feel your emotions, even the conflicting ones, the more you can process your grief.
  • Grieve in your own way. You may not feel grief immediately after your loved one dies. It may hit you a week, a month or a year later. Others will be overcome with grief immediately. Each person’s grieving process is normal. How long you spent with your loved one, the level to which you were intimately involved in his or her care and your relationship will all impact how you grieve.
  • Don’t hesitate to talk to someone about your grief. There are many resources available to those who are walking the journey through grief, including counselors, therapists, clergy, friends and family members.
  • Avoid becoming isolated. As horrible as you may feel, reach out to friends and spend time with them. Feel the joy of getting together with loved ones again. Being a caregiver may have prevented you from doing many of the things you love and now is the time to become involved in activities and friendships again.
  • Find a local support group. Talking with others who have experienced the same loss can be of great help. You may be able to find an Alzheimer’s support group near you.1
  • Be good to yourself. You have been through a traumatic experience. Many people may not understand. Take care of yourself and give yourself time to get back to a normal life that is not full of caregiving duties. Accept that you may feel good one day and horrible the next. Grieving is a long process and you will need to be patient and take care of yourself.

Caring for someone with dementia is difficult and so is grieving for them. Although it is a cliche, the best strategy to follow is taking one day at a time. Be good to yourself, remember the happy moments you had with your loved one and know that grief will subside with time.

Sources:
1: Alzheimers and Dementia Support Group