Grief and loss are a part of life. Simply defined, grief is a normal process of reacting to loss1. While it is usually associated with the death of a loved one, grief can be experienced with loss of any kind. People living with and caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia often face unique challenges with grief and loss.
You see your loved one, yet you are slowly losing the person you knew. Dr.
Pauline Boss describes it as “ambiguous loss”—it is unclear, with no resolution and no closure2. There is no way to fix this; there is no cure and despite all efforts, Alzheimer’s disease/dementia is a terminal illness. We long for closure and to accept non-closure can be difficult.
What can family members/caregivers do to mitigate and manage this grief?
- Re-think your thoughts! One of the toughest things about the feelings of daily loss is that there needs to be acceptance of non-closure. You cannot fix this. There is no cure. There is only acceptance of what is and thriving in life’s gentle mix of heartbreak and joy.
- Take care of yourself. This includes the basics of eating well and exercising, butalso getting to your doctor appointments, prioritizing time with friends, and not neglecting your faith community.
- Join a support group specific to caregivers of loved ones with dementia. This can help normalize your experience, give you creative ideas to handle some of the challenges, and allow you to give and receive
- Find respite care for your loved one so that you can get short periods of time free from the responsibilities of care. This could be an adult day center, in-home care, or having a friend stay with your loved one for an
“Grief is like an ocean, it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is
calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” Vicki Harrison.
Submitted by Melody Thomas-Morgan Resident Relations Specialist
The Margaret T. Morris Center 928-445-6633
1 Shiel, W. (n.d.) Medical Definition of Grief. https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=24274
2 Boss, P. (2011). Loving Someone Who Has Dementia, p. 1.