Dealing with loss can be difficult for anyone to navigate, especially for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Though those with dementia still have their emotional memory intact, their response to emotions is often affected by it, leading to irrational and sometimes illogical reactions to overwhelming news. Because of this, it’s essential to approach your loved ones with a little more awareness and thoughtfulness when discussing loss so that you can be prepared for their reaction.
Keep things simple, and most importantly, follow your loved one’s lead during this conversation. Here are some other things to keep in mind when coping with a sense of loss when a loved one has dementia:
- Be Honest. Keep things simple yet honest when announcing emotional news. Choose one person to deliver the information, as multiple people explaining things can be confusing for someone with dementia. If your loved one has questions, don’t hesitate to answer them! Remind them of their impact on the person who died so they know they were emotionally connected to them.
- Remember Emotion. Remember to recognize that people with dementia still have emotions! Don’t dismiss or overestimate their emotional memory and respect their right to know the truth. This is particularly important if your loved one often forgets someone has passed away.
For example, if someone’s wife has passed away and your loved one is asking where she is, avoid telling them that “she’s at work,” as this will set up an expectation that they will return. Instead, tell them, “She’s fine; she’s in a good place now,” to give them a truthful yet calming answer. Read their emotional levels so you know how much to tell them. Above all, remember to validate whatever feelings they have. Dementia or not, the grief process is challenging for anyone to handle, and acknowledging their feelings is a huge part of making them feel comforted and safe.
- Prepare to Repeat the Conversation. Again, it’s not uncommon for people with dementia to forget what you told them. Because of this, be prepared to have this conversation more than once. Similarly, expect a range of reactions each time—it’s possible for your loved one to respond differently each time. Treat each conversation like it’s the first one and stay mindful of what their emotions could be.
- Talk with Someone. Supporting someone with dementia, on top of experiencing your grief, is not easy, and you shouldn’t feel alone while doing it. Reach out to people you can talk to, as sharing your pain and feelings can help diminish it. Friends, family, or even professional counselors or therapists are great options for you.
You can also join Alzheimer’s or dementia support groups to talk to others going through the same things. If you’re uncomfortable sharing your feelings with others, consider keeping a journal to write down your thoughts—this is a safe way to let out some frustration with complete privacy. Just make sure that you are taking your own needs into account.
- Monitor Their Expression of Grief. As you continue talking to your loved one and experiencing their responses, take note of their reactions so that you can monitor their stage of dementia. At the same time, try not to project any of your feelings onto their own process of dementia—if they do not have the reaction you expected, it might just be more insight into their stage of dementia.
Addington Place at East Lake is a vibrant senior living community. With chef-inspired meals, compassionate staff available to serve you 24 hours a day, and engaging social activities, our residents live fulfilling lives with the comforts of assisted living. Visit our website to learn more, or call us at (727) 491-5256 for more information!