Feb 5, 2013

Alzheimer’s Disease and Grief: The Anguish of Multiple Losses

Grief may be triggered by the death of a loved one. People can also experience grief if they have an illness for which there is no cure, or a chronic condition that affects their quality of life. The end of a significant relationship may also cause a grieving process.

By Marie Marley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Alzheimer’s Disease and Grief:  The Anguish of Multiple Losses

Death is typically a clear starting point for grief, and it’s clear that eventually there will be more or less an end to it.

But with dementia, loss comes in bits and pieces and drags on and on for many years before the loved one even dies. It is understandable why people feel overwhelmed by the prospect of so many years of grieving.

1. Grief Over the Loss of the “Previous Person"

When a loved one is showing clear signs of dementia, that person begins to fade away, resulting in feelings of loss and despair. And there are so many losses over time. These may include things such as negative personality changes, not being able to have meaningful conversations, and, in many cases, the person with dementia not even recognizing loved ones. One way to deal with these continuing losses is to learn to let go of the “previous person” and learn to love and cherish the new person just as he or she is.

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2. Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is that which often occurs when one is expecting a person to die. It typically has the same symptoms as grief after any other death. To deal with this it can be helpful to try to shift your focus from the anticipated death of the person to trying to enjoy together the time that’s remaining.

3. Grief When the Person Finally Dies

Grief when a loved one with dementia dies can be more difficult than that for other types of death. One reason is because the caregiver has usually already been grieving the loss of the person for years. It’s difficult to endure the seemingly endless grief. Research shows that 72% of people who have a loved one with dementia are actually relieved when the person dies. This can lead to incredible feelings of guilt. It’s important to realize that feeling relief when a person with dementia passes away is normal and that there’s no reason to feel guilty about it.

4. Complicated Grief

Complicated grief, also referred to as unresolved grief, is that which does not lessen with time, or is so intense it significantly interferes with one’s life. It may appear as major depression, lead to substance abuse, cause thoughts of suicide, or take on the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It may also become chronic grief. Surprisingly, complicated grief may also manifest itself as a complete absence of mourning. Complicated grief usually requires professional help from a physician and/or psychotherapist.

Come Back Early Today:
A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy

Marie Marley, PhD, is the award award winning author of, Come Back Early Today: A Story of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. You can visit Marie’s website at ComeBackEarlyToday.
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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room