World Alzheimer’s Day is September 21, and the focus is on a show of support for the more than 6.2 million Americans living with this disease. Springpoint at Home is participating in The Walk to End Alzheimer’s on September 23 to show our commitment to help advance research toward methods of prevention, treatment, and a cure.
Springpoint at Home recognizes the toll it takes on family and professional caregivers caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Caring for someone who is slowly fading away from dementia is sometimes even referred to as “The Long Goodbye.”
It is important to understand and normalize the two distinct types of grief that are part of caregiving. The first – anticipatory grief – is common to all caregivers. The second – ambiguous grief – is unique to those caring for people living with memory impairment and other neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Anticipatory grief hits us before a loss and can manifest as sadness, anger, resentment, loneliness, anxiety, and depression or fatigue. This is not limited to the impending loss of your care partner’s life. It can also be the loss of your dreams for retirement, your place in the world, or even the loss of financial stability due to caregiving. In fact, even changes which are anticipated and chosen (like leaving a job) may result in anticipatory grief, such as the loss of friendships made at your current place of employment.
It is important to remember that in the mild stage, the person you are caring for is probably going through anticipatory grief as well. They are feeling grief around the loss of words, independence, and other abilities. They may exhibit sadness, anger, resentment, loneliness, anxiety, and depression or fatigue. We must respect the grief they are feeling just as we ask others to respect ours.
Ambiguous grief is common among dementia caregivers. It is the grief that is felt when someone is gone without a death, and you have no closure or clear understanding of what happened. It was first recognized in relationship to soldiers missing in battle. This type of grief is common when a family member disappears, either physically or through a state of cognitive or physical decline. For dementia caregivers, it is often the loss of an emotional connection that is most difficult because the physical presence of the person you are caring for remains.
Common signs of ambiguous grief include sadness and depression, numbness, hopelessness, emptiness and feeling “frozen” in grief, unable to move through it, or finding it too difficult to live with it.
Unresolved ambiguous grief can lead to complicated grief after the loss. Complicated grief is when someone is in an ongoing heightened state of mourning with intense pain and sorrow and no healing after a year.
Many people find talking to a professional about their grief, whether it is anticipatory or ambiguous, helpful. To move forward in a new way of life requires tolerating ambiguity instead of trying to find closure. It may be one of the most difficult things a caregiver is asked to do.
Your Springpoint at Home Aging Life Care Advisor™/Care Manager Team is part of your support team and can help you find resources to understand and deal with your grief.
For more information on Springpoint at Home, please call 844-724-1777.