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Grief and Caregiving with Alzheimer’s Disease

Grief is an extreme feeling of sadness that people experience brought on by the death of someone they love, and is also caused by a great loss. Learning someone has a terminal illness, and seeing a loved one slowly slip away can bring on these feelings. When you are caring for and love someone with Alzheimer’s disease, unfortunately, grief becomes a part of your life throughout the course of the illness.

How does this affect you as the spouse or child of the afflicted person, who then becomes the caregiver for your loved one? The experience becomes a series of “tiny deaths” as you mourn your loved one’s health and well-being. You will also begin to mourn the life and lifestyle you had previously. As a caregiver, most of your time, thoughts and energies will be used to make sure that your loved one makes it through another day unscathed.

It is an uphill climb. Your lives will never be the same. Your loved one will slowly become less and less the loving parent or marriage partner in your life. This profound loss will increase as your loved one’s dementia increases. You may be doing fantastic work as a caregiver, and yet, your loved one may come to the point where he or she will need to live in a care facility with round the clock care. This guilt just adds to the burden you carry.

Your feelings may change again when your loved one passes on. It’s quite possible that you will grieve the loss of the caregiving role--the job has taken up so much your life and it may become difficult to see which direction to take your life now that you aren’t a caregiver.

Plus, at the end of your journey with your loved one, you may realize the toll that your caregiving has put on you. The combination of giving care and grieving at the same time can lead to nausea, weight loss, weight gain or insomnia.

You need to realize that you are not alone. There are resources, support groups, friends and family who are available to help you along the way. Even though it may seem difficult, reach out to find help for yourself. Whatever combination you use of support is up to you. If you need to seek counseling to get you through the caregiving experience, seek it out. If you need respite time to help you get through the week, arrange it with a loved one or a company that handles this kind of care.

Taking care of yourself is also important during this journey. In addition to counseling, take up exercise. Walk or exercise with your loved one if you still can. Get the 8 to 9 hours of sleep per day that you need to function properly. It will not be easy, but if you dedicate yourself, you can make it through this difficult time.

Resource: Alzheimer’s Association, Family Caregiving Alliance