Alzheimer's and the Five Stages of Grief

If someone you know and love has Alzheimer’s disease, you're likely to feeling abandoned, angry or guilty. Take a deep breath. What you’re feeling is perfectly normal.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, gradually strips away a person’s intellectual abilities, personality, memory and sense of self. Over time, it erodes and changes what you know and love about this person. Understanding the five stages of grief may help.

The Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross authored the groundbreaking book “On Death and Dying” in 1969. She identified five stages of grief and described how people can process their grief and move on. While Ross’s book applies to the dying process itself, it is also appropriate as a guide to understanding grief experienced by those who love someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

Stage 1

Denial. When you first hear the diagnosis, you may deny its accuracy, continue to expect your loved one to get better, or convince yourself that the symptoms you’re seeing are not result of Alzheimer’s.

Stage 2

Anger. You may be angry with the person or with the disease itself. You may easily become frustrated or feel abandoned and resentful.

Stage 3

Guilt. If you are a caregiver, you may feel guilty about taking breaks. You may regret previous actions, or harbor negative thoughts about your loved one.

Stage 4

Depression or sadness. Caregivers may lose hope, withhold their emotions or even withdraw from social activities.

Stage 5

Acceptance. This occurs when the patient’s loved ones ultimately acknowledge the diagnosis. During the acceptance phase, it's possible you can find meaning in caring for their loved one. You can learn to enjoy the remaining time you have together.

Find out if hospice care could help your loved one.

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