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.

1: Alzheimers and Dementia Support Group

How Caregiving Will Change Over the Next Ten Years

Technology changes everything and that includes caregiving. Over the next ten years, it promises to make caregiving easier and improve the ability to care for loved ones. Whether you’re a dementia caregiver or long-distance caregiver, there are more and more resources to help with caregiving every day. The human touch will also be needed to avoid isolation and depression and those who look into the future have a good idea of how that can improve too.

Advances that support caregivers are essential as the demographics of the United States change. The population is aging and Baby boomers have fewer children than their parents did. As a result, there will be more seniors and fewer children to care for them; demand may outstrip capacity. That is going to drive the need for change and improved tools and support for caregivers. Here are a few examples of how technology will advance caregiving in the future:

Apps and online tools are going to increase: There are certainly many apps available now to help caregivers with their responsibilities. These will only grow in the coming decade. The challenge is to know which apps work well. Look for apps that apply directly to your needs. Apps are already being developed that help people prepare for surgery and recovery, and guides them through exercises for rehabilitation. Others help people to understand illness and learn about medications and their side effects.

Support for seniors living at home: Technology will continue to advance to support seniors who want to age in place and continue living in their own homes. As the technology advances it will have privacy checks in place so that only issues of concern, like falling and taking medication on time, will be tracked with the rest of daily activities kept private. Some examples of this include:

  • Remote monitoring in the home: The best of this technology provides remote monitoring for caregivers and physicians. Heart monitors, blood pressure monitors, and scales will be connected to doctor’s offices so they can receive daily readings from the senior. This can prevent conditions like heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from worsening. It can also prevent the need for frequent trips to the doctor’s office, thereby reducing costs for everyone. For caregivers, this means fewer interruptions at work and better control of caregiving tasks.


  • Safety monitors in the home: These monitors are an extension of the caregiver during the day. As they continue to advance, monitors will be able to send a notification to the caregiver if his or her loved one has fallen, taken medication on time, left the house or remains in bed. For caregivers of loved ones with dementia, sensors will help to know if they are safe, detecting if the refrigerator has been opened or if a burner on the stove has been left on.


  • Smart homes: One of the most exciting developments is the smart home. It will make it easier and safer for seniors to age in place. For example, power outlets will be at waist level instead of near the floor to help prevent falls caused by imbalance. Assistance finding car keys, the television remote, and the telephone will be built into the house. Lights will turn on from sensors in the floor helping to prevent falls during the night. Different appliances in the home will be able to communicate with one another. For example, the refrigerator will be able to send a screen message to the television telling the viewer that the refrigerator door has been left open.

    What is old is new again. Futurists expect that as the senior population grows and there aren’t enough caregivers to meet the need, families may need to return to the nuclear, multi-generational family unit. Housing will have to expand to incorporate various generations so that it becomes easier to care for one another. Instead of senior housing, we will likely have multi-generational housing.

    The future of caregiving will continue to evolve and technology promises to help it change for the better. With new technologies comes new communication tools for long-distance caregivers; this makes for easier more efficient health monitoring, keeping an eye on loved ones is becoming more manageable. These new tools will become a great resource for caregivers, and even reduce the risk of caregiver burnout. We hope caregivers will be able to work smarter, not harder in the next ten years.

Brain Exercises Linked to Decreased Risk of Dementia

Some cognitive training programs have earned a bad reputation in the media, and for good reason. These less reputable companies have made farfetched promises and claims that their products will prevent cognitive decline altogether. We know that complete prevention of dementia cannot be guaranteed, but cognitive training does engage and strengthen the brain, contributing to improved function of cognitive activity. Now, the latest research indicates a link between specific brain exercises and a decreased risk of symptoms associated with dementia.

The results of the Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly, or ACTIVE study, were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, the world’s largest gathering of Alzheimer’s researchers. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Nursing Research.

The ACTIVE study followed 2,832 healthy subjects between the ages of 65 to 94 years old for 10 years. The subjects were randomly split into 4 groups: those who completed speed training computer exercises, those who completed either memory or reasoning training with an instructor, or a control group who did not participate in cognitive exercises.

Researchers found that the groups who completed memory or reasoning training did not have a decreased risk for developing dementia, while the group who partook in speed training did have a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Memory training was a classroom-based course designed to teach memory boosting strategies, while reasoning training was a classroom-based course designed to sharpen subjects’ reasoning skills. Speed training included computer exercises that asked users to visually process information more quickly. Subjects completed 10 one-hour training sessions over five weeks with an instructor on hand to assist if needed. Some of these subjects had booster sessions one year later and three years later.

Subjects who underwent the first 10 hours of speed training had a 33% decreased risk of developing dementia within the next ten years. Individuals who received the additional speed training sessions had a 48% decreased risk of developing dementia. However, the study has neither been peer reviewed nor published in a medical journal; therefore, results are preliminary.

Although this study does not report that brain training is a cure-all for dementia, such training could lead the way to enhanced methods of brain stimulation. In fact, the ACTIVE study was reviewed, among other studies, as a part of the research and development effort behind the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, Home Care Assistance’s cognitive stimulation program. The Cognitive Therapeutics Method is designed to promote brain health through personalized, one-on-one activities performed in the home.

To learn more about the method, visit


Targeting Inflammation in the Brain Could Halt Alzheimer’s Progression

Researchers from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom have found that targeting and reducing inflammation in the brain can reduce memory problems seen in Alzheimer’s disease. This research adds to growing evidence that suppressing inflammation in the brain may lead to preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease.

Inflammation in the brain is caused by a build-up of microglia cells, which are cells that provide the main form and first line of immune defense. The proliferation of microglia cells has also been found in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, post-mortem, and is a key indicator of several neurocognitive disorders. Individuals with Alzheimer’s also had an increased regulation of the CSF1R gene that correlated with the severity of the disease.

In order to reduce this inflammation, the research team needed to block the production of microglia cells. To do so, they administered drugs that block the CSF1R receptor, which is responsible for the increase in microglia cells in the brain, to mice. Results showed that the mice given the CSF1R-blocking drug had fewer memory and behavioral problems. The drug also proved beneficial in preventing the loss of communication between nerve cells in the brain, a common symptom in individuals with Alzheimer’s.

senior woman holding her headDescribed as encouraging by the research community, these results prove that a CSF1R treatment could be a potential therapy option for treating Alzheimer’s disease. Further studies will be needed to verify the long-term effectiveness of the drug in humans.

In the meantime, the Cognitive Therapeutics Team encourages non-pharmacological approaches to promote an active and healthy brain-centered lifestyle. We encourage 15 to 20 minutes of physical activity per day, a balanced diet, social interaction and mental engagement to promote cognitive health and enhance quality of life!


Singing Proves Beneficial in Early Stages of Dementia

Many experience that a familiar tune can jog an old memory, which is why music is often used as a type of therapy for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. A recent study by the University of Helsinki in Finland looked more in-depth at the benefits of music and found that singing – as opposed to simply listening to music – can boost the brain function of individuals in the early stages of dementia.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, split 89 people with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers into three separate groups: one group underwent a music intervention program involving singing, another group underwent an intervention involving listening to familiar songs, and the last group received only standard care with their caregiver and no music intervention. All three of the programs ran for ten weeks. To see who benefited the most from each type of intervention, the researchers evaluated the cause of dementia, the impact of the dementia’s severity, the individual’s age, care situation and previous musical hobbies.

They found that singing was the most beneficial for working memory, which is used to retain new information, executive function, which includes reasoning and judgment, and orientation. They also found that it worked best for individuals with mild dementia who were eighty years old or younger. Listening to familiar songs was only associated with cognitive benefits in individuals with advanced dementia, while both singing and listening to music together were the most effective at alleviating depression in participants with mild dementia.

Interestingly, the participants’ previous musical hobbies had no effect on how well the music intervention programs worked, so people from a variety of musical backgrounds could benefit from the power of music, making it widely applicable. The research team hopes that these results will support the notion that musical activities can be easily used in Alzheimer’s and dementia care as well as memory care facilities. Singing has proven to be a very engaging way for individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia to maintain their memory and other important cognitive functions.

Along with exercise, a balanced diet, and social activities, singing can be a fun way to boost your mood and strengthen your memory. Whether you are in the shower, in the car or at home, sing your favorite songs — involve kids or grandkids and make it an event! We recommend karaoke, which is a great way to exercise your vocal chords and your brain while having fun. Happy singing!