Coping with Alzheimer’s is a difficult endeavor. Add the complications of grief into the mix and it’s even more difficult. When an Alzheimer’s sufferer loses a spouse, it is important for their family to help them cope. However, according to Neptune Society, “Before you can help a person with Alzheimer’s cope with the loss of a loved one, it’s important to understand how the grieving process works and the various stages of grief individuals typically experience.”
Grief and Alzheimer’s
Traditionally people like to separate the stages of grief into five parts: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The truth is no two people grieve the same. One person may go hard on the denial and bargaining while the anger is a flash in the pan. Some people take months to grieve, other people don’t start to truly grieve until months after the incident. In order to be supportive, recognize that the Alzheimer’s sufferer is going to experience grief in their own way. Being understanding throughout the process will be more helpful than you know.
An added complication is the memory loss that comes with Alzheimer’s disease. If they are in the earlier stages of dementia, they can understand that the loss occurred. However, bouts of forgetfulness might mean they don’t always retain that information.
However, if they are in the later stages or already struggling with forgetfulness, it may be difficult to communicate the death of their spouse. It’s not uncommon for the care recipient to soon forget the conversation, necessitating its repeat. Sometimes they may speak of their spouse as though he or she is still living. As the caregiver, one should take the person’s cognitive status and previous behaviors into account when determining how to respond. It’s a delicate situation, but there’s no “wrong way” to handle it as long as you don’t resort to anger or impatience.
While their memory may come and go, the Alzheimer’s sufferer is likely to exhibit common behaviors associated with bereavement. This can make the process even more complicated and challenging for all involved.
Dealing with an Alzheimer’s Sufferer’s Grief
Once the death of a spouse is communicated, the person with Alzheimer’s may express disinterest in attending a funeral or service. They may not find the same kind of comfort in these social situations. In fact, the influx of socialization may be more stressful than helpful. Communicate with them about how they would like to commemorate their spouse in their own way that can help with closure.
Whether or not they attend a service, the Alzheimer’s sufferer may exhibit typical grieving behaviors. It’s not uncommon for the person to demonstrate a lack of motivation, loss of appetite, sleepiness, sudden outbursts, and other symptoms of grief.
When they confront you with questions regarding the death of their spouse, it’s helpful to redirect the conversation to pleasant memories. Play music that brings back good memories of their husband or wife. Tell them stories of your favorite memories with their spouse. By being positive and soothing, you help them cope.
Tying Up Loose Ends
If you are caring for an Alzheimer’s sufferer in the midst of their spouse’s death, one of the best things you can do is take care of the necessary arrangements that come with death. With Alzheimer’s, the complication of making arrangements and dealing with paperwork is a monumental task. Help them arrange:
Carrying out final arrangements
Conflicts with the family
Transporting the remains
Going over the will and other legal documents
Handling life insurance duties
While dealing with emotional issues is difficult and subjective, helping with these concrete duties is a way you can take care of them with certainty.
When a person with Alzheimer’s loses a spouse, things can be complicated by their memory loss. Whether or not they retain the information, they are likely to exhibit typical grief behaviors. When dealing with volatile emotions, it’s helpful to steer the conversation in a positive direction. Beyond emotional support, it’s important to help an Alzheimer’s sufferer carry out final arrangements and organizing legal documents and life insurance. Most importantly, be patient and kind, especially with yourself. It’s a difficult situation and you’re doing the best you can.