Loss and grief part of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s

Loss and grief are part of the daily experience of those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

With trepidation, I enter the long-term care facility.

Bounding up a flight a stairs, I pause before opening the door to the second floor.

The pause is two-fold. I need to search my memory bank for the code to enter the special care unit and secondly, to take a deep breath as I prepare myself emotionally for what’s coming next.

Entering the room, I scan the sea of faces and the Geri-chairs. All of a sudden, I hear a familiar voice.

“I know you!” I walk towards the voice, holding back my tears and give my grandmother the biggest grin I can muster. She starts clapping her hands excitedly and repeats, “I know you and you know me!”

“Hi Nana. It’s Wendy, your granddaughter.”

She opens her arms and she takes me in for a hug.

“Where are you?” she asks. I know what she really means is where do I live now. Well into the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, she isn’t able to always find the right words to express herself.

“I live in British Columbia. I go to school there. Your brother, Harvey sends his love.

She smiles, claps and says again, “I know you and you know me!”

As our visit comes to a close, and it’s hard saying goodbye knowing this may be the last visit I have with my Nana.

Images of the vibrant, articulate and elegant woman who once modelled for Eaton’s in the 1940s cloud my thoughts. Sadness creeps in as I reminiscence about our special relationship, her love of quotations, her beautiful penmanship and her fondness for all of her grandchildren.

Anticipatory grief is described by Therese A. Rando as “the reaction and response to all losses encountered in the past, present, or future of a life-threatening illness.”

Loss and grief are part of the daily experience of those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

Caregivers experience a continuous and profound sense of loss and grief, one that intensifies as their loved one’s symptoms increase. For many, the loss of their love one’s identity is overwhelming.

My mother, who cared for my grandmother, best described it. “I go and see my mom everyday, but on most days, all I see is her shell. My real mother is gone, and she’s never coming back.”

Children grieve the loss of their parent, and spouses grieve the loss of their marriage. Other caregivers experience losses in their everyday lives — a decrease in social and leisure activities, a change in work and family roles and losses in their personal relationships.

As the dementia progresses, some caregivers feel as though they’ve entered a chronic state of grief and depression or are affected by a decline in their own health status.

When life comes to an end for the individual with dementia, many caregivers describe the loss as liberating or express sheer relief at the end of suffering. Yet, for others, the loss of their caregiving role leaves a big hole.

Many express a lack of focus or an inability to find meaning in the here and now. Those who cared for a spouse or parent may experience guilt and sadness believing they should have said or done more.

My own grandmother’s death was a mix of emotions — sadness, relief, and the finality of life.

She was my last grandparent to die. Her death coincided with the cycle of life, as my daughter was born a few weeks later.

I think my Nana decided it was time to head up to the theatre’s balcony. She always loved having the best seat in the house, especially when the play featured the debut of one her precious great-grandchildren.

• • •

I am pleased to feature Steve Hill, pastor at St. Joseph’s General Hospital, as my next contributor. He’ll be joining us to share his knowledge and experience on strategies for coping with grief.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

 

Just Posted

Team effort rescues injured mountain biker in Cumberland

A team effort between Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, the Cumberland… Continue reading

Museum hosts birthday celebration for 103-year-old Comox Valley resident

HMCS Alberni Museum and Memorial welcomes June Gillrie

Tales from MusicFest: The sweet, down-home sounds of ‘Americana’

Asleep at the Wheel, Los Texmaniacs among legendary acts coming to the Comox Valley

Project Watershed plants eelgrass off of Miracle Beach Park

If you were at Miracle Beach Park over the weekend, you may… Continue reading

WITH VIDEO: Two endangered marmots released on Mount Washington

With three new pups born in May, two more Vancouver Island marmots… Continue reading

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques returns to Earth, sets Canadian space record

Native of Saint-Lambert, Que., set a record for longest single spaceflight by a Canadian at 204 days

Vancouver Aquarium drops cetacean ban lawsuit in new lease agreement

Ocean Wise CEO Lasse Gustavsson called the updated lease an exciting new chapter for the aquarium

Pedestrian struck by vehicle in Stz’uminus dies from injuries

A male pedestrian was struck in the early morning of June 25

Vancouver Island man in medically-induced coma after dirt bike incident near Brewster Lake

GoFundMe campaign raised more than $3,000 by Monday afternoon

Thieves steal two $40K chairs featuring gold serpents from Vancouver furniture store

Chairs believed to be the only two of its kind in Canada, police said

Poll: Rising gas prices force B.C. residents rethink summer road trips

63 per cent of respondents reported gas prices are impacting their day-to-day finances

PHOTO: Moose cow and calf relax in Williams Lake flower garden

The homeowners got a surprise when they checked their most recent surveillance footage

Two in hospital after plane crashes in Okanagan Lake

RCMP say wheels left down caused landing plane to overturn on lake

The world’s Indigenous speakers gather in B.C.’s capital to revitalize languages

Organizers estimate about 1,000 delegates from 20 countries will be at the conference

Most Read