How does an Alzheimer's caregiver manage or overcome grief?

The seventh and last emotion of the seven deadly emotions of Alzheimer's caregiving is grief, which can be painful and overpowering for the Alzheimer's caregiver.

Feelings of disappointment, anger, sadness, anxiety or loneliness are all normal and natural responses to the losses the caregiver is experiencing.

Grief and loss associated with the role of caregiving should not be overlooked or underestimated. Caregivers experience losses not only of the person they love, but losses of their own familiar roles and dreams for the future. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, caregivers feel that their loved one is a stranger occupying a familiar body, and grief comes from the loss of the personal relationship, the intimacy and companionship.

It is difficult to mourn that person who is still so visible in the caregiver's life.

Some caregivers experience feelings of loss related to their loved one's memory loss and personality changes through the journey of the disease. They can feel like the loved one is already gone.

The caregiver experiences what is called anticipatory grief, an emotion felt by those who are coping with a loved one’s long-term chronic illness, especially when there are clear losses of ability (as in Alzheimer’s). They often face periods of mourning even as they are still performing the difficult challenges of giving care. This can lead to depression, exemplified by sadness, lack of hope and guilt, which are all feelings associated with stages of grief.

Caregivers should acknowledge their feelings and understand that these emotions are normal. One of the first steps is understanding that going through the grief process is real, equivalent in intensity and scope to the response of death. Caregivers should practice self-care and seek emotional support from friends and family.

It is also helpful to concentrate on "living in the moment" and find enjoyable activities for the affected individual and the caregiver. These moments generate memories to cherish that can ease the pain of the eventual physical loss of the loved one.

When the loved one dies, the caregiver often experiences a sense of relief that the long ordeal is over, which can complicate grief with added feelings of guilt.

These feelings of relief, as well as pain and sadness, are common, and the caregiver should take time to grieve and express these feelings on their own and with the support of others.

There is no time limit on grief, and the caregiver might never truly overcome the grief journey. It is important to note that every individual grieves in a different way, and caregivers should be patient and gentle with themselves while trying to return to a new normal in their lives.

Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at thememorywhisperer@gmail.com.