Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating diagnosis, and as the disease progresses it becomes increasingly challenging for sufferers to manage the myriad of emotions and situations they encounter throughout the course of any given day. Thus, when an Alzheimer’s sufferer experiences a tremendous loss, such as the death of a spouse or loved one, it can seem like a monumental task for caregivers to help them cope with their grief.

The experience of grief and bereavement is unique to every individual and can depend largely on how far their disease has progressed. People in the earlier stages of dementia may have an easier time understanding the loss that has occurred and even retaining the information, with occasional bouts of forgetfulness.

Soul Grief

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Caregivers of people in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia often struggle with communicating regarding the death of a loved one, fearing that the care recipient may not comprehend the loss or may soon forget after the conversation. In fact, this is a common occurrence, leaving caregivers to wonder whether they should remind the person they care for that their loved one has passed on when they speak of her repeatedly as though she is still living. Multiple experts have offered advice on handling these sensitive situations, but ultimately, caregivers must approach every situation individually based on the person’s cognitive status, previous behaviors and conversations, and the individual’s personality and behaviors.

It’s important to recognize that even if a person with Alzheimer’s disease seemingly does not comprehend the loss, they may exhibit common behaviors associated with grief and bereavement and may retain an understanding of what has occurred. Often, these people are able to communicate their understanding of the loss during lucid moments, while during periods of forgetfulness, they may speak of loved ones who have passed on as though they are still with us.

There is one certainty in helping an individual with Alzheimer’s disease cope with the loss of a loved one, and that is that it is most assuredly a challenging and complicated process. We’ve put together a comprehensive resource, including tips, information, and advice from a variety of reputable organizations and sources, to help caregivers navigate the complex maze of helping a person with Alzheimer’s cope with the death of a loved one.

Coping with the Range of Emotions in Alzheimer’s Caregiving

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease can be particularly emotionally challenging, resulting in a range of emotions for both the caregiver and the care recipient. The following tips and resources provide helpful advice for coping with the myriad of emotions encountered by Alzheimer’s caregivers, particularly when facing loss.

Caregiver

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Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease comes with both challenges and rewards. This article outlines the challenges and rewards of caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease and offers information about support resources for caregivers.

Behavior problems can be a very real concern. This article discusses things like wandering, aggressiveness, hallucinations, and difficulties with sleeping or eating, along with tips to help caregivers manage these issues.

Memory loss is one of the most common – and most frustrating – symptoms associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. This resource from WebMD offers tips for caregivers to help people with Alzheimer’s disease cope with memory loss.

There are some special considerations and tips for reducing challenges during day-to-day care. Whether you live with someone who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or caring for a person with Alzheimer’s who does not reside with you, this article provides helpful information to help you best care for a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Likewise, this article offers helpful links to information on maintaining a sense of normalcy in day-to-day life.

Stress and anxiety are common for people with Alzheimer’s disease. These emotions are often attributable to frustration due to memory loss, a loss of ability to do things they could once do independently, and the overall experience of grieving for what has been lost in relationships and daily activities. This resource from the National Institute on Aging offers links to helpful information for managing stress and anxiety, coping with grief and feelings of loss, and more, for both caregivers and individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Learning to recognize signs of frustration in yourself helps you to be proactive about managing your stress. This resource, from Caregiver.org, offers helpful scenarios and alternative statements to control self-doubt, frustration, and other emotions common among Alzheimer’s caregivers.

Understanding the Grieving Process and Stages of Grief

Before you can help a person with Alzheimer’s cope with the loss of a loved one, it’s important to understand how the grieving process works and the various stages of grief individuals typically experience. Still, the grieving process is unique to every individual, so be sure to respect individual differences.

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Extreme feelings of grief typically subside within six months following the loss of a loved one. However, some individuals may struggle for several years to resume a sense of normalcy. This article describes the general process of grief and complicated grief.

Bereavement is the state of grieving over the loss of a loved one. This resource from the American Cancer Society explains the difference between grief and bereavement as well as the various stages of grief.

Grief is typically thought of as having five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This article from Grief.com outlines the five stages of grief as conceptualized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

Other models define grief as having seven stages, a similar model to the 5-stage model that breaks down some of the original five stages into more complex experiences. This article outlines the seven-stage model of grief.

The five stages of grief are universal and experienced by people from all corners of the world and from all walks of life. This article discusses the five stages of grief and explains how these emotions represent stages experienced by anyone experiencing a loss.

Understanding How Loss and Bereavement Affect a Person with Dementia

When caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to understand how various circumstances and events may impact them. The following resources and information are useful for gaining clarity on how loss and bereavement may impact the individual for whom you’re caring.

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Every person’s experience will be unique. Not every person with Alzheimer’s handles grief and loss in the same way. This is true of all individuals, whether the person is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or not. This article describes the importance of person-centered care to adapt to the individual’s needs.

“Bereavement at the death of a friend or relative with dementia is a unique and complex situation that everyone will cope with in their own way.” This article outlines the experiences of grief, loss, and bereavement that a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease may experience, both after their own diagnosis and following the death of a friend or loved one.

Every day is different following the death of a spouse or loved one for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Not only is the grieving process different for each individual, but as Carol Bradley Bursack explains in this article at ElderCareLink, the grieving process and the emotions experienced can change from day to day.

It’s not uncommon for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to not recall the death of a loved one. In fact, some Alzheimer’s sufferers still speak as though their loved ones are living years following a death. This resource includes the perspectives and advice of several families and caregivers who have dealt with similar situations.

The reaction of a person with dementia to grief is largely affected by their cognitive understanding of what has happened to their loved one. For this reason, grief may be far more complicated for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia than it may be for a healthy person free of diseases or illnesses affecting cognition.

The loss of a family pet can lead to substantial grief for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, as well. This article offers tips for helping a person with Alzheimer’s disease cope following the loss of a beloved pet.

Breaking the News and Communication Tips

Many times, caregivers are tasked with breaking the news of the passing of a loved one to a person suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. The following tips and resources provide valuable advice for having these initial sensitive conversations and communicating with people with Alzheimer’s disease following the recent passing of a loved one.

elderly woman
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Should you tell a person with Alzheimer’s disease about the death of a loved one? If so, who should be the person to communicate the news, and how should it be handled? These are just a few of the questions plaguing caregivers’ minds when a care recipient loses a loved one. This article addresses how to best answer these questions and handle the communication of bad news.

When the situation involves the passing of a spouse, telling the surviving spouse, even when that person has Alzheimer’s disease, is an absolute must. Carol Bradley Bursack shares her experience when placing her dad in foster care, while her mother, who had dementia, shared a room with him in the nursing home.

There are some strategies that can help a person with Alzheimer’s disease more easily take in new information, such as keeping the information as simple as possible or breaking it down into smaller bits of information or steps. This article offers some helpful tips for aiding a person with Alzheimer’s disease in taking in new information through context and various communication strategies.

Your approach to sharing the news and helping a person with Alzheimer’s disease cope with the passing of a loved one will vary based on how advanced the individual’s disease is. As this article points out, there are multiple stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A person in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease may cope more readily with such a loss, while in some cases, the loss can complicate the individual’s disease progression.

A person with Alzheimer’s disease deserves the dignity of being told of the passing of a loved one. Regardless of how difficult the situation may be, many experts agree that any individual with Alzheimer’s disease has the same right to learn of the passing of a loved one. This article explains the position of one recognized expert on Alzheimer’s caregiving, Carol Bradley Bursack.

There are several tips and strategies to help caregivers communicate more effectively with a person with Alzheimer’s disease. This article outlines ten tips for communicating with a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, such as getting the person’s attention first and asking simple, answerable questions.

Caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s disease encounter many unique and challenging communication scenarios. This article covers many of the possible scenarios caregivers may face, along with tips for addressing these situations. One such scenario is how to handle it when a person with Alzheimer’s disease states and/or believes that a deceased loved one is not only living, but came to visit that day.

When communicating the death of a loved one to a person with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s recommended that only one person break the news to avoid confusion. This article offers helpful information and advice for communicating the death of a loved one to a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Handling Forgetfulness When Caring for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease

One of the biggest challenges faced by many Alzheimer’s caregivers following the loss of a loved one is that the care recipient may forget that their spouse, parent, or other loved one has passed. These situations prove particularly challenging for caregivers in determining how to best communicate throughout these conversations.

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People with Alzheimer’s disease don’t always have to be grounded in reality. As this article points out, reminding a person with Alzheimer’s disease that her spouse or parent has passed away is also a reminder of the pain of that loss.

When the person you are caring for repeatedly forgets about their loved one’s passing and asks for him, it’s difficult to navigate these situations. This article offers some advice for finding the right balance between telling the person you’re caring for a lie and having to relive your own grief each time she asks about her loved one.

Sometimes, a “therapeutic lie” is acceptable, and may even be preferred in some cases. This discussion centers on the benefits of occasionally using this technique to avoid causing undue stress or pain for a person with Alzheimer’s disease.

Some experts advise against reminding a person with Alzheimer’s disease that a loved one has passed. This article outlines five things you should never say to an individual with Alzheimer’s disease, including reminding her that her loved one has passed on. As this article explains, if the person does not believe you, they may become angry with you; if they do believe you, they will experience grief and loss all over again. And ultimately, the information may not be retained, so you may encounter the same situation again tomorrow. However, this is dependent on the person as well as his disease process.

Habilitation Therapy is an approach that gives the highest value to the well-being of the person suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. This approach, outlined in this resource, recognizes that whatever the individual correctly or incorrectly believes to be true is, in fact, the reality in which the individual is living. Habilitation Therapy approaches these situations by understanding what the person is experiencing and respecting it, never negating it.

How to Handle Bereavement Activities When Caring for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease

In addition to the possibility that a person with Alzheimer’s disease may experience memory loss resulting in forgetfulness about a loved one’s passing, every Alzheimer’s sufferer is unique in how she experiences grief and handles bereavement. The following tips and resources offer helpful advice for coping with situations such as attending funerals and other bereavement activities.

Helen LaBar holds an Earth Link pendant
Image via Flickr by Arthur (Ted) LaBar

An Alzheimer’s sufferer may opt not to attend a loved one’s funeral. Again, every individual handles grief and loss differently. This resource contains helpful responses from Alzheimer’s caregivers surrounding the communication of the death of a loved one and how to handle situations, such as the individual choosing not to attend a funeral.

When determining whether a person with Alzheimer’s disease should attend the funeral of a loved one, there are several considerations to weigh. This article offers advice for handling different situations when a person has dementia, such as attending church and attendance at the funerals of loved ones.

Taking a person with Alzheimer’s disease to the funeral of a loved one is an individual choice based on behavior and cultural preferences, but can sometimes help the individual process the loss. This resource offers tips for communicating the death of a loved one to a person with Alzheimer’s disease and recommends activities and approaches that can help both you and the person for whom you are caring cope with the loss.

A person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may exhibit behaviors that demonstrate the pain of their loss, even though they don’t appear to have a cognitive understanding of the loss. As this article explains, it’s not uncommon for a person with Alzheimer’s disease to seemingly not comprehend that a loved one has passed, yet display common bereavement behaviors such as sleepiness, a lack of motivation, a lack of appetite, and other common symptoms of grief.

It can be helpful to redirect conversations following the death of a loved one to pleasant memories, playing music that brings back fond memories, or sharing stories about the person who has passed to help a person with Alzheimer’s cope with grief. This article offers several suggestions for easing the grieving process for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as helpful insights on how a person with Alzheimer’s may experience grief.

While helping a person with Alzheimer’s disease cope with the death of a loved one is certainly not easy, it can be quite rewarding. When you employ strategies that help the person you’re caring for transition from a state of grief, despair, and possibly anger and frustration to one of comfort and nostalgia, it can help you feel accomplished as a caregiver as well as help you manage your own complicated emotions that accompany caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease.


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