Dealing with grief
Throughout my years of visiting senior living communities and working with families, some of the most heartbreaking moments come from watching a family member struggle with watching a loved one slowly slip away because of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. It can be one of the most challenging events a family will ever face.
The progression of dementia can be agonizing to witness. Watching the person you've known and loved all your life forget how to perform simple tasks, not recognize who you are, or no longer be able to express themselves as they once did can be devastating. Grief is a natural component of dealing with a loved one with dementia. Here are a few tips that can help.
Be gentle with yourself
Give yourself permission to be sad, frustrated or angry. You may go through a range of emotions, both positive and negative, perhaps at the same time. Let yourself feel them all to their fullest extent, knowing that they are all normal and healthy. It's normal, for instance, to feel love and anger at the same time.
Be prepared for the ups and downs
Grieving is an up-and-down process. One day, your loved one may seem just like their “old self,” giving you optimism that they're getting better. The next, they won't recognize you, sending you into despair. There will be days you'll feel annoyed by the restrictions placed on your own life. The next day, you'll see a glimpse of the person you once knew and it may all seem worthwhile. The important thing is to not judge your emotions. Simply recognize you're going through the normal process of grieving.
Don't waste time with guilt
You didn't cause your loved one's illness. Your loved one knows you love them. Don't let yourself feel guilty for things that are out of your control. You may start to feel resentment, perhaps even wishing your loved one was dead. This is completely normal and part of the human experience. Don't beat yourself up for your very unique and personal journey of having a loved one with dementia.
Talk to someone
Whether it's a professional therapist, a trusted friend, a support group of people who are going through the same thing you are, or a supportive family member, it's important to share your feelings of grief. Bottling up your feelings, whatever they are, increases your stress level.
Take care of yourself
The best thing you can do for your loved one is stay healthy – emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It's important to eat well, exercise, meditate, socialize, sleep and make room in your life for the things that bring you joy.
By following these tips, you'll not only be able to help heal yourself, you'll be a better caregiver for your loved one.Kelly Scott, currently serves as the Vice President of Program Integration and Innovation with Emeritus Senior Living. She has been with Emeritus Senior Living for more than 13 years. For the last seven years, she has focused her energy on developing effective and innovative programs for the Alzheimer's and Memory Care residents at Emeritus assisted living communities