Coping with a Sense of Loss When a Loved One Has Dementia

Sunrise Senior Living  |  January 14, 2022
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When a senior loved one has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the impact on the entire family is significant. The disease is often referred to as “the long goodbye” because it slowly robs a person of their memory and independence, while families watch helplessly.

As the disease progresses, the spouse likely becomes a caregiver instead of a partner. Adult children or other family members often provide support as well. Everyone is forced to accept that their aging loved one is fading away and may not recognize them at some point. The emotional toll the situation creates can lead to feelings of grief, even though the older adult is still alive.

What can families do to cope with a sense of loss while providing care to a loved one with a memory impairment? We have some suggestions you might find helpful.

Anticipatory Grief and Alzheimer’s

Anticipatory grief is the grief that occurs before a great loss. For loved ones of an older adult with Alzheimer’s disease, this grief can last many years. Here are a few steps you can take to cope with the unique situation family members experience:

  • Join an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group: Caring for someone you love who has this disease is different than other types of life-limiting illnesses. By connecting with peers who are walking this same path, you might find peace and comfort. Check with local senior centers and the agency on aging nearest you if you’d like to join an in-person support group. If a virtual experience is your preference, the caregiver forum ALZ Connected is one to consider.
  • Practice good self-care: This is tough to hear when you already feel overwhelmed, but taking care of yourself is vital when you are a caregiver. Break exercise up in to 15-minute periods of time each day. Utilize meal delivery services to eat well-balanced meals. And do your best to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Meditate or journal to help you manage stress. The end result of improving your lifestyle will likely be increased energy and a better ability to cope.
  • Go out alone or with friends: When you are an Alzheimer’s caregiver, the days can be hectic and stressful. While it may not be easy to do, it is important to take time to yourself. Even if it’s just to grab a cup of coffee with a friend or take a quick yoga class. If you don’t have someone who can sit with your family member while you are gone, explore other options. It could be a friendly visitor through your church or synagogue, or an in-home caregiver.
  • Play music to lift the spirit: Emotions linger after memory fails. While it might feel as if your loved one is lost to you, it’s important to know that they can still process emotions and that those feelings stay with them. In fact, research shows that emotions linger long after the memory of the event is gone. Playing happy music from their youth or dancing together while they are seated in a chair can give both your spirits a boost.
  • Live in the now and not the past: This one may be the most difficult on your list. Try to focus on the present situation, and not everything your loved one has lost. And don’t try to force them back into the role they played in your life before the disease. It will only lead to frustration and anxiety for both of you. Try to meet your family member where they are right now in this journey.

Respite Care to Support Alzheimer’s Caregivers

One final piece of advice for Alzheimer’s caregivers is to explore respite care options in your neighborhood. These short-term stays at an assisted living community can give a weary caregiver a few days or weeks to take a break. All the while knowing your family member is in good hands. Call 1-888-434-4648 to talk with a Sunrise expert about respite solutions that meet your needs.


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