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Caregivers may experience grief for future losses; Caregivers Corner

Capital - 12/23/2018

Dear Mary, You recently shared a letter from a woman who was having difficulty facing the holiday while her husband is in a nursing home. My husband is still home with me but he has dementia, doesn't realize I'm his wife and constantly tells me he needs to go home.

I've been to your classes so I understand why he is the way he is, but I can barely stand the thought of people wishing me a Merry Christmas. It isn't merry at all.

Dear Reader, Adjusting to the changes dementia brings is an on-going process which affects all aspects of our being - physical, emotional and spiritual. Since you have been to our workshops, you know that the feelings of guilt, anger, resentment and frustration are all normal and all part of the grieving process.

When caring for someone with a terminal illness, such as dementia, we may experience what is known as anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is sorrow for the losses we anticipate in the future.

Caregivers often also experience ambiguous grief when, like your husband, the care recipient is physically present but psychologically or emotionally absent. These types of grief are often difficult to acknowledge but there are a normal response to a caregiver's situation.

Caregivers can also experience what is known as a grief surge, often triggered by holidays, anniversaries and birthdays. This surge has been described as a "sudden jolt of grief" which seems to come out of nowhere, painful on all levels. It can be brought on by a smell, sound, picture or phrase such as "Merry Christmas."

When you experience this level of grief, reach out to a family member or good friend. Share your feelings with someone you trust; take a break to meet with friends or family to do something enjoyable. Find an activity that you can still share with your husband, with no expectations, such as listening to Christmas music or watching movies.

If you feeling very low, anxious, tired and are having trouble sleeping, contact your family physician. Accept that your feelings are normal and that they will pass.

Dear Mary, My mother, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, moved in with my husband and I, and we are in the process of packing up her home so it can be sold. I thought it would be helpful to bring some of her things to decorate her new room, but she became agitated and said they didn't belong there. I didn't mean to upset her and thought I was doing the right thing. What happened?

Dear Reader, First of all, don't beat yourself up! Normally, we advise families to bring familiar items to the care recipient's new home, but it seems as if your mother finds it upsetting to see her familiar items in different surroundings.

She may not be emotionally ready for the finality of the move and believes that, if her furniture and knickknacks are not with her, they are still in her "home" and she can still go back there.

Give her time to adjust. Since you plan on selling her home, you may want to pack and save a few meaningful items in case she asks about them in the future. Keep in mind, however, that as the dementia progresses and her memory regresses, the importance of these objects will fade.

In the meantime, maybe she would like to help decorate her new space by picking out a bedspread, a new sitting chair or pictures for the wall. You might also find that to be an enjoyable activity during this time of transition.

Dear Readers, I hope all of you have a safe, blessed and happy holiday season.

Questions and comments can be sent to Mary Chaput at the Department of Aging and Disabilities, 7320 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, MD 21061, or by contacting 410-222-4339 or agchap01@aacounty.org.

Credit: Mary Chaput - Questions and comments can be sent to Mary Chaput at the Department of Aging and Disabilities, 7320 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie, MD 21061, or by contacting 410-222-4339 or agchap01@aacounty.org.

 
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