Dealing with the loss of a spouse is a painful, oftentimes long process. This grieving process can be complicated by conditions like Alzheimer’s, which causes confusion and forgetfulness. If you’re trying to help a loved one with Alzheimer’s deal with the loss of their spouse, here are some things you should avoid.
Don’t try to hide the news from them
Apart from the ethical and religious arguments for telling a person with Alzheimer’s that their spouse has died, there are practical ones. Yes, your loved one deserves to know. You shouldn’t hide it from them. But you must tell them in order to set a baseline truth for later on down the road. Yes, there will be times when they forget that their partner is dead. But there will also be times when they are lucid. They need to know that their spouse is no longer with them.
When having the conversation, don’t be vague or euphemistic. Don’t tell them that their partner isn’t going to be back for a while, or even that they’ve “passed away.” It’s best to speak in straightforward terms. Your husband has died.
Don’t bring up the fact that their spouse is dead
Many with Alzheimer’s suffer periods of memory loss, and it can range from short term to long term to everything in between. This means that your loved one will oftentimes forget that their loved one has passed. You don’t want to bring this fact up out of the blue and remind them, because in some cases it won’t be a reminder – it’ll be like they’re learning the fact all over again for the first time. This can cause them to relive the initial shock.
Don’t be afraid to use distractions
Even though you don’t bring it up, your loved one is bound to forget and ask where their spouse is, or when they are coming home. This is where it becomes a judgment call. Are you honest with them, even with the chance that it will cause emotional distress? Do you lie to them (or at least muddle the truth)? Is that ethical? In the end, it’s up to you to decide on a case-by-case basis.
One way to get around this is to use distractions. Answer their question with another, unrelated question. Get them on another train of thought. Offer to do an activity with them. Go on a walk. Watch TV. Distractions help.
Don’t think their grief will fit a pattern
Every Alzheimer’s case is different, and every day in an Alzheimer’s sufferer’s life is different. That’s why there are specific challenges to helping someone with Alzheimer’s cope with a loss that go far beyond helping someone without the disease. As one Alzheimer’s resource puts it, on any given day you could have to deal with any variety of emotions, including “genuine longing for the person, bewilderment as to why the person isn’t nearby, fear, distress, suspicion, anger, and concern.” While these feelings tend to have a similar cycle in people without Alzheimer’s, those with the condition can flip back and forth between stages of grief on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis.
In the end, the prevailing thing to avoid when dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s who is coping with loss is impatience. Imagine you lost your spouse. Now imagine that you were also confused and having to relearn that your spouse is gone over and over again. As a caregiver, you should try to avoid being dishonest, but be smart about it. Know when to do a little fibbing or distracting. And always know that each day will present a new challenge. Never try to put your loved one’s emotions into a box – they simply won’t fit.
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Michael Longsdon | email@example.com
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