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Alzheimer's Brings Early Grieving

Legacy.com / Nick Ehrhardt

Alzheimer's Brings Early Grieving

Alzheimer's brings early grief (©iStock.com/123ducu)

(Flickr Creative Commons | Christian)

There are so many different types of grief, and each brings its own unique pain and challenges. Grieving the death of a parent is much different from grieving the loss of a child, which is much different from grieving the loss of a spouse … the list continues. But one type of grief we don’t always talk about is the grief that begins before a death. Any long-term illness might lead to this – the horrible knowledge that death is coming inevitably, and soon – but Alzheimer’s disease brings a special set of circumstances that causes a unique and early grief for anyone caring for an affected loved one.

Alzheimer’s is very common: An estimated 5 million Americans 65 and older have the disease. It typically begins with mild memory loss, which increases over time and is joined by other symptoms including personality changes, confusion and hallucinations. In the late stages of the disease, sufferers may be entirely bedridden and unable to communicate. As Alzheimer’s advances, the patient’s family loses their loved one a little bit at a time.

“When someone we love develops Alzheimer’s disease or any form of dementia, we experience a series of losses,” says grief expert Helen Fitzgerald. “The person we knew so well becomes more like a stranger. What is most painful is that we become strangers to that person — no longer recognized as daughter, son or spouse.”

The first time a mother can’t remember her own child is devastating, and it’s typically followed by greater and more frequent episodes of memory loss and unusual behavior. As we watch a beloved family member become someone completely different, it’s natural that we begin grieving long before the death – we’ve already begun to lose the person we knew.

The Alzheimer’s Association notes that Alzheimer’s caregivers often go through the five-phase grieving process while their loved one is still alive, progressing gradually from denial to acceptance. And the feelings of loss are likely to occur over and over – as the patient declines, and again after their death.

It’s important to seek and accept help and comfort when we’re grieving a death, and this support is just as crucial in a case of early grief for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Books and articles can help us understand what our loved one is going through and discover new ways to connect with them despite their memory loss. Support groups, both online and in person, offer a network of others who are going through a similar loss and can offer advice and commiseration. And it’s important to take care of yourself in addition to your loved one; depression can become a real issue, and counselors and therapists are available to help you through it.

Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.

Help fight Alzheimer’s and get to know your global family

Bestselling author A.J. Jacobs, whose books include The Year of Living BiblicallyThe Know-It-All and Drop Dead Healthy, is hosting a family reunion — and we’re all invited. In the quest to build a family tree of the entire human race, Jacobs has invited the entire world – yes, everyone! – to attend his Global Family Reunion in New York June 6.

All proceeds from this fun family event will benefit two remarkable organizations devoted to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease: the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and the Alzheimer’s Association of New York City.

Global Family Reunion

The potential scientific value is tremendous as the project can yield insights into how diseases like Alzheimer’s are passed down and help pinpoint genes and cures. Whether or not you participate, Jacobs encourages everyone to talk to their family members about health and finding out about diseases that run in the family.

If you’re interested in attending the Global Family Reunion, use the promo code GFRLEGACY to get 20% off when buying tickets. Legacy.com will be at the storytelling tent. Hope to see you there!