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Coping with the Long Goodbye

Life with a loved one who’s been diagnosed with dementia is ever-changing and ever-challenging— it’s important that caregivers cope with the emotional stress associated with the process of a long goodbye. Acknowledging any feelings you may have, taking care of yourself, and maintaining your normal routine as much possible can help you cope with the loss of a loved one.

From the earliest stage through the most severe, dementia can last anywhere from five to 15 years. During this time, the diagnosed person changes gradually but radically. The emotional pain is inescapable: You and your loved one share a long, vibrant history together. Neither of you can attain a professional distance of neutrality or detachment.

Separating the person you’ve long known as vital and healthy from the unpredictably but surely declining person they now are is impossible. Caregivers must recognize the emotional stress and pain that will result from the journey of a long goodbye, and work towards peace. The Alzheimer’s Association offers 13 insights for coping:

1. Feelings are neither right nor wrong. Acknowledge them. There will be good and bad days, but eventually, the sharp pain will diminish.

2. If possible, don’t make any major decisions while grieving. If you must make a decision, be sure to obtain support and advice from trusted friends or a counselor.

3. Don’t try to suppress your feelings with alcohol or drugs.

4. Recognize that certain times (holidays, anniversaries, and significant days during the disease, like care placement or the day someone dies) can be stressful. Take time for your own needs and simplify your life during these times.

5. Since everyone grieves differently, do what is comfortable for you. Don’t feel you have to go through the process like someone else.

6. Get plenty of rest, as emotional expenditures drain us of energy.

7. Allow for times of reflection. Many find solace in their spiritual life.

8. Find people who will let you talk without judging. Often, those who have experienced a similar loss (like members of a support group) can relate especially well.

9. Learn to accept help. Obtain practical and emotional help. Let others know what’s happening and how they can help — don’t expect them to just know.

10. Alzheimer’s is a hard disease. Appreciate the little moments and seek the beautiful things in life to help keeps things in balance.

11. Be kind to yourself. Don’t expect perfection. We all make mistakes, so practice forgiveness and try to be realistic about what you can do.

12. A routine often helps us get back some structure and sense of normalcy.

13. Take things one day at a time. The pain will lessen if you have processed it, and hope will return.