Alzheimer’s and the Five Stages of Grief
If someone you know and love has Alzheimer’s disease and you are 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. In essence, it takes away what we know and love about the 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. In it, she revealed her theory on the five stages of grief, and how we’re able to process our grief, heal and move on. While Ross’s book applies to the dying process itself, it is also appropriate as a guide to understanding the grief experienced by those who love someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
Denial. When you first hear the diagnosis, you may deny its accuracy, or continue to expect your loved one to get better, or convince yourself that the symptoms you’re seeing aren’t the result of Alzheimer’s.
Anger. You may be angry with the person or with the disease itself. You may easily become frustrated or feel abandoned and resentful.
Guilt. If you are a caregiver, you may feel guilt about taking breaks. You may regret previous actions, or harbor negative thoughts about your loved one.
Depression or Sadness. Caregivers may lose hope, withhold their emotions or even withdraw from social activities.
Acceptance. This occurs when the patient’s loved ones ultimately acknowledge the diagnosis. During the acceptance phase, many times people can find meaning in caring for their loved one. They learn to enjoy the remaining time they have together.