Grieving for a Loved One Who Has Alzheimer’s Disease

One of the most common aspects of caring about someone who has memory loss is that grief comes in waves. The initial diagnosis can bring on anticipatory grief – feeling loss over the challenges that lie ahead. Then, as the disease brings about changes and challenging behavior in a long-familiar person, families feel the grief of losing a connection with someone who used to be so close.

These bouts of despair can be exacerbated because, for the most part, they are private moments. When a parent or loved one passes away, most people will experience an outpouring of love and support from friends, coworkers, and other family members. It’s much harder to tell someone, “My mom didn’t recognize me last night,” and harder still to get the same level of empathy and support, even though the feeling of grief can be just as profound.

Additionally, the gradual losses you experience may bring on mixed emotions, including anger, sadness, frustration and complete numbness. The first thing to know is that whatever you’re experiencing is normal. There is no wrong way to grieve. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to cope with the pain you’re feeling and to start healing.

Treat yourself with kindness. Accept that what you’re feeling is normal and give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. You may even experience anger at the person you love, feeling like they’ve given up on life or aren’t trying hard enough to be “normal” – and then feel guilty for having such thoughts. During these moments, recognize that what you’re experiencing is normal and that these feelings are a natural part of losing someone you care about.

Acknowledge your grief. Though there will be those around you who don’t understand what you’re going through, it’s important to acknowledge – at least to yourself – that you’re grieving. Consider a creative outlet – such as journaling, painting, or photography – to help work through the onslaught of emotions. Talk to friends and other family members and tell them how you’re feeling. Once they understand what you’re going through, they may be better able to help you through your grief.

Stay connected. Grief can be very isolating and often, one’s desire is simply to be alone. But healing is enhanced by sharing your experience with others. So, call up a friend or see a counselor. Consider joining a support group or join a support group. Being in the company of others who are experiencing the same emotions you are can be very healing, and you will also benefit by offering support to others. A good place to find a support group near you (or online) is the Alzheimer’s association (

Take care of yourself. In the midst of grief, it’s easy to let other things slide – going to the gym and grocery store or even having coffee with friends. But one of the best ways to combat grief is to stay healthy, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It’s important to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, socialize, and to continue to feed your soul – whether that means going out dancing, taking a walk through your local park or going to your faith community.

Get help. The above suggestions may be well and good, but many family caregivers are hard pressed to find any time to tend to their own needs. You can’t do this alone. Respite care is vital. Can friends lend a hand? What help is available from government and volunteer organizations? Consider an adult day center specializing in caring for clients with memory loss, which can can free up hours during the day where you can recharge your emotional batteries, and in the process be a better caregiver for your loved one.

Source: IlluminAge. Copyright 2016 IlluminAge.