Feelings of grief and loss are very common for family members and caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). These strong emotions may begin immediately after a diagnosis is made. It’s important to understand that there is a normal process that many people experience when it comes to loss and grief. Talking about your feelings and getting support is a vital part of working through the loss and grief process.
What is grief and loss?
Here are some of the common stages that people experience when going through grief and loss. You may or may not necessarily experience each stage in the order the experiences are posted below. It’s also important to note that people experiencing grief commonly move in and out of these different stages randomly and there is no significance to exactly how or when you move through each stage. The important thing is to recognize that each stage is normal and as long as an individual allows him/her to experience whatever he/she feels without judgment, they usually work through the process of grief and end up accepting the loss, given adequate time.
Stages of grief and loss
Denial-it’s common to deny that a disease as serious as AD is really occurring in your loved one. Questioning the validity of the diagnosis, expecting your loved one to get better and hoping the person is not really that ill are common-particularly in the earlier stages of the disease.
Anger-feelings of resentment and frustration toward the person with the AD and/or other family members (perhaps those who don’t help with caregiving), being angry, blaming others, yourself or even God for your loved one’s illness are common emotions during the stages of grief and loss.
Guilt-asking yourself what you have done to cause the illness, feeling bad when you take time for yourself, and/or having unrealistic expectations of yourself are all feelings that are commonly experienced during the stages of guilt resulting from grief and loss.
Feelings of sadness and grief-as the stages of Alzheimer’s progress, caregivers and family members may continue to feel a deep sense of sadness and loss of the person they once knew. This stage can also involve withdrawing from social activities and/or withholding emotions.
Acceptance-coming to terms with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s will happen gradually over a period of time as a person moves in and out of the various stages of grief and loss. You may feel angry one day, then have feelings of deep sadness for several days and finally come to terms with a feeling of acceptance, then get angry again.
As time goes on, it’s important to realize you are not alone and to reach out (to a support group, friends and family) and talk about your feelings. It can be particularly healing to talk to other caregivers and family members who have had similar experiences when faced with a serious illness such as AD.
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