Coping with a Sense of Loss When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Coping with a Sense of Loss When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Dear Donna:

My dad and I have been my mom’s primary caregivers since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over three years ago. None of us were familiar with the disease or the unique challenges it would present. It’s been a real learning curve.

My dad and I are struggling to cope with a profound sense of loss, even though my mom is still with us. It seems like every day there is another change in Mom or something else she’s no longer able to do for herself. It’s so tough to witness this decline.

Do you have any suggestions for my dad and me? We want to be strong for my mom, but it’s getting more and more difficult.

Sincerely,

Alysha in Midland, MI

Tips for Coping When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Dear Alysha:

When a person has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, their family and friends all feel the impact of the diagnosis. Alzheimer’s is frequently referred to as the long goodbye because the disease slowly robs a person of their verbal skills, memory, and independence. Like you and your dad, loved ones of people with Alzheimer’s often say they feel a deep sense of sadness, helplessness, and frustration as the disease progresses.

While the physical demands of caregiving can cause loved ones to feel exhausted, the mental toll can be equally trying. These ideas might be helpful to you and your dad:

  • Join a caregiver support group: Caring for someone you love when they have Alzheimer’s is different than caring for those with other types of life-limiting illnesses. Connecting with peers in a similar situation might be beneficial. The understanding and shared experience may bring you and your dad a sense of comfort. Some people might feel more comfortable joining a virtual support group than an in-person meeting. The Alzheimer’s Association has some virtual support group ideas for you to consider.
  • Live in the moment: Of all the suggestions listed, this one might be the most beneficial but also the most difficult to carry out. Instead of focusing on what your mom has lost, try to live in the present. Meet your mom where she is in this journey, which can be different every day.
  • Take a break: When you are caring for a person with Alzheimer’s, the days can be hectic and stressful. Try to take time for yourself on a regular basis, even if it’s just to have lunch with a friend or take a quick walk.
  • Learn to meditate: Many people find that meditation helps bring them inner peace during difficult times. If you haven’t tried it yet, there are a variety of options online for beginners. Watch Beginner’s Guide to Meditation and Guided Meditation for Seniors, Older Adults to get started.
  • Try music therapy: Music offers therapeutic value to people of all ages. For people with dementia and their loved ones, it can be a way to connect after communication skills are impaired. Playing happy music might be a way for the three of you to enjoy your time together.

I hope some of these suggestions are useful to you and your dad, Alysha. I’m wishing your family all the best.

Kind regards,

Donna

Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

When a senior has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, specialized care can help them live their best quality of life. From our person-centered approach to care to an environment that promotes independence, Heritage Senior Communities are leaders in the field of dementia care. Call the community nearest you to learn more and schedule a personal visit soon!

Coping with Family Caregiver Fear and Guilt

Coping with Family Caregiver Fear and Guilt

Dear Donna:

My great-aunt had a bad fall a few months ago that left her with some pretty significant injuries. She’s recently been discharged from a rehabilitation center and is staying with me. I am her only relative and love her dearly. The role of caregiver is brand new to me, and I find myself struggling.

I worry that I’m overlooking things and not caring for her properly. If I leave her in the care of my husband for even short periods of time, like to run a quick errand, I feel guilty.

My aunt will likely be sharing our home permanently, so I know I have to find ways to better cope with caregiving. Do you have any advice for how to do that?

Sincerely,

Janet in Grand Haven, MI

Coping Tips for Family Caregivers

Dear Janet:

My first suggestion is to be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your feelings are okay to have. When it comes to caring for a loved one, most of us are too hard on ourselves. Family members have a rollercoaster of emotions even after years of caregiving experience. Fear, guilt, and sadness about the future are common.

As a caregiver, you are witnessing a person who has been a big part of your life struggle. That isn’t easy. Being unable to predict exactly what they’ll need from you can be anxiety-inducing, too. Then there is the guilt. When a family member believes they’ve made a mistake or have taken a little time to themselves, the guilt can be overwhelming.

Here are a few tips for managing the rollercoaster of difficult emotions family caregivers experience every day:

  • Join a caregiver support group.

Caregiver support groups are a great avenue for learning how to manage difficult emotions. They allow you to connect with peers in person or online. Not only will you learn from other group members’ experiences, but you will also discover you aren’t alone in this struggle.

Online caregiver support groups are often a good option when time is an issue or it isn’t safe to leave a family member unattended. Some caregivers find it easier to share their true feelings because of the anonymity of an online group.

In-person groups are good for those who want face-to-face interaction with fellow family caregivers. Check local senior centers, assisted living communities, and churches to find one near you.

  • Connect with information and resources.

Part of the fear family caregivers have stems from not having any formal training. Many take on the role like you did, after a loved one experienced a health crisis. The uncertainty you feel is legitimate and understandable.

It might be helpful to find resources that help you self-educate, such as articles on the Heritage Senior Communities blog. AARP Caregiver Resource Center is another helpful option to explore. You may also want to call your local agency on aging to ask about family caregiver workshops. If they don’t offer them, they might know of a nearby organization that does.

  • Take advantage of respite services.

Respite care is a program designed to give caregivers relief on a short-term basis. It can be a lifesaver for people who don’t have friends or family with whom to share caregiving duties. Most respite services can be utilized for a few days or up to a month, depending upon the senior living community.

Respite guests in a senior living community benefit from receiving the same care and support as long-term residents. They also enjoy healthy meals, housekeeping services, and a variety of daily life enrichment activities.

  • Ask for help.

This last suggestion is important: give yourself permission to ask for and accept help. You can’t do it all. Trying to do so can lead to chronic stress and caregiver burnout. Whether it’s asking a friend to pick up a few groceries for you or investigating a friendly visitor program at your church or synagogue, allowing others to support your family through this time is necessary and okay.

I hope this information brings you some peace of mind and confidence, Janet. Please let me know if you would like more information on respite care at any of the Heritage Senior Communities or call the location nearest you!

Kind regards,

Donna

What Will My Role Be After My Dad Moves to Assisted Living?

What Will My Role Be After My Dad Moves to Assisted Living?

Dear Donna:

After much thought and many conversations, my dad has decided to move to an assisted living community. For almost four years, my husband and I have been trying to help him remain in his own home. However, this past year has been a real challenge. He’s experiencing some balance issues that his doctor thinks are linked to poor nutrition and being too sedentary.

Our hope is that being surrounded by his peers with opportunities to socialize will help spark his enthusiasm for life again. Not to mention being able to enjoy well-balanced meals that he doesn’t have to cook or even warm up!

While I believe this is the right decision for my dad’s mental and physical well-being, I’m struggling with what my new role in his life will be. I’ve become accustomed to seeing him every day or so, stocking his freezer with meals, taking him to doctor’s appointments, and generally caring for his well-being. It’s been a lot for me to take on, and I feel guilty that I haven’t been able to give my dad the care he needs.

Do you have any advice for me as my dad makes this transition?

Sincerely,

Nicole in Hudsonville, MI

Navigating an Aging Parent’s Move to Assisted Living

Dear Nicole:

Caregiving for a loved one can be both rewarding and demanding. As an aging adult’s need for care and support increases, families often realize the senior would enjoy a better quality of life in an assisted living community. It’s a transition that helps ensure the older person is happy, healthy, and safe. It also allows loved ones to find better balance in their own lives.

While caregivers usually know this is a good solution for everyone involved, they often feel bad about their inability to care for their loved one at home. Sound familiar? I have a few suggestions I hope you will find helpful.

  • Redirect negative thoughts.

When you find guilt or negative thoughts creeping in, try to redirect your attention. Take the dog for a walk or pull out the dust cloth and do a little cleaning. Listen to some uplifting music while you exercise. Many people find 15 minutes of yoga or meditation works well at focusing the mind on the good. The idea is to train your brain to replace guilt with something positive. Allow yourself to accept that you are doing what’s best for your dad and your family.

  • Believe in your decision.

When you believe you’ve made an informed decision, it will be easier to relax and help your dad prepare for the move. That means being thoughtful in your research, asking good questions, and visiting every community you are considering in person several times, if possible. Review the article “Questions to Ask on the First Call to Assisted Living” to make sure you know what to ask the staff at each community.

  • Volunteer at the community.

Once your dad selects and moves into an assisted living community, give yourself some time to find better balance in life. Then, talk with your dad to see how he would feel about your getting involved at the community. Most assisted living communities utilize volunteers in a variety of roles ranging from helping out with activities to arranging flowers on dining room tables.

  • Join a caregiver support group.

No one understands these types of difficult feelings better than fellow family caregivers. Joining a support group will allow you to connect with people who are in situations similar to yours. Many assisted living communities and senior centers offer in-person support groups. You could also consider an online caregiver forum, like those hosted by the Family Caregiver Alliance.

I hope this information is helpful, Nicole! Sending my best wishes for this transition to you and your dad.

Kind regards,

Donna

Does Social Media Add to Caregiver Stress?

Does Social Media Add to Caregiver Stress?

Many people are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic by connecting with others on social media and spending more time online. While it’s a safe way to stay in touch with loved ones when you are trying to avoid large gatherings, there can be downsides. Social media platforms have become a leading source of misinformation and family disagreements. They can also lead to unrealistic expectations.

For a caregiver who might already be struggling with isolation and stress, it can be difficult to find a healthy balance for social media use. Let’s look at the pros and cons of social media and how to tell if you might be overdoing it.

The Benefits of Staying Active on Social Media

Some benefits of participating in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social channels include:

  • Staying informed: Social media makes it easy to keep up with your favorite organizations and groups. This is especially helpful if you are trying to limit the amount of time you spend in public or if you are a caregiver for a loved one who isn’t safe staying alone.
  • Sharing with loved ones: You’ll also find platforms like Facebook to be a good avenue for connecting with and sharing news, photos, and videos with loved ones.
  • Finding virtual events: The COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in the number of virtual activities people can participate in. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are good places to find programs you can join.

These are just a few of the many advantages of social media. But it’s important to know about the disadvantages, too.

The Downside of Social Media

Unfortunately, the downside of social media platforms has become increasingly obvious and includes:

  • Spreading misinformation on important topics, such as the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and how to protect yourself from the virus
  • Arguing about politics and what is—or isn’t—credible news
  • Creating unrealistic goals, from how you look to the type of house you live in
  • Contributing to a sedentary lifestyle, the dangers of which are linked to as many health risks as smoking

How can you tell if your social media time is helping you feel less isolated or adding to your caregiver stress?

Here are a few tips to evaluate your social media use and see if it’s time to make adjustments.

Evaluating Social Media–Related Stress

If you are trying to assess whether your social media habits are helping you feel connected or having a negative impact on your well-being, here are a few factors to consider:

  • Time involved: How much time do you spend on social media each day? Staring at your computer or device screen for too many hours can harm your eyes. Spending too much time sitting can also negatively impact your health. You might need to track your time so you can objectively evaluate the situation.
  • Relationship changes: Are you fighting with friends and family you would never disagree with in person? Have your offline friendships been damaged by disagreements that started on a platform like Facebook? People often feel much freer to express their opinions online than they do in person. If you’ve seen your relationships suffer, it may be best to decrease your social media time.
  • Increased anxiety: There’s no disputing that social media can be a source of anxiety and stress for many. Facebook is often the worst. Pay attention to how you feel before you log on and after you log off of social media. Is there a change? That can be key to determining if you need to take a social media break.

If you aren’t ready to give up your social media interactions but need to reduce the stress it causes, pay attention to what is making you feel uncomfortable. Are certain family members cyberbullies? Are some organizations you follow causing you stress? Choosing not to follow them on social media may help you enjoy yourself online.

Reduce Caregiver Stress by Joining an Online Support Group

Another online resource for caregivers to consider joining is an online support group. It’s a good way to connect when the person you are caring for needs constant supervision or if you are limiting the time you spend in group gatherings. How to Connect with an Online Caregiver Support Group has tips to help you get started.

Helping a Parent Cope with Loss

Helping a Parent Cope with Loss

Dear Donna:

My dad passed away earlier this year and my mom is struggling. They were married almost 60 years, and she is having a difficult time coping with this loss. I don’t know what to do to help her. She is just lost without him.

I believe part of the challenge is that we lost him unexpectedly. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away within two weeks. We had no time to prepare ourselves for what we were about to experience.

Do you have any suggestions? With the holidays upon us, I’m sure the situation is about to get worse.

Kind regards,

Allyson in Holly, MI

Supporting a Grieving Parent

Dear Allyson:
I’d like to begin by expressing my condolences on the loss of your dad. While I know your concern is for your mother, it’s important to honor your own feelings and grief, too. Losing a parent is difficult at any age.

Since you asked for ideas to support your mother, I’ve pulled together some suggestions. Here are a few ways to help your mother cope with her loss:

  • Accept that grieving is essential for healing: The grieving process is hard work. Anger, sorrow, fear, guilt, and disbelief are common emotions those who are mourning experience. Watching someone you love work through this isn’t easy. But it’s important to remind yourself it is a necessary part of the healing process. Support your mother, but also realize how vital it is to give her time to work through these difficult emotions.
  • Talk about your dad together: Even the closest family members struggle with what to say when someone has experienced such a significant loss. You might be hesitant to bring up your father’s name for fear of upsetting your mother. But if you talk about him, it will give her permission to do the same without worrying she’s upsetting you. Sharing favorite memories and photos can be healing for both of you.
  • Refrain from setting unrealistic goals: Another mistake people make after losing a loved one is to set goals for processing grief. There is no set time frame for feeling “better” or packing up a lost family member’s belongings. Try to refrain from setting artificial and often unrealistic timelines. Unless you must make a decision or complete a task due to a firm deadline, do things when the two of you are ready. That includes cleaning out a loved one’s closet, canceling a cell phone, or selling a car. You’ll know when the time feels right.
  • Connect with a support group: Surviving spouses and adult children often say it is helpful to discuss their feelings with people who have experienced a similar loss. An in-person or virtual bereavement support group may help the two of you feel comfortable and understood as you are grieving. Hospice agencies usually offer them at a variety of times and locations, including online. Most don’t require your loved one to have been a patient for you to join.

One final suggestion is to consider talking with a therapist if you feel like your own grief or your mom’s is becoming too much to bear. Sites like Grieving.com and Grief in Common are good ones to explore if you need to find an experienced therapist.

I hope this information is helpful, Allyson. I wish you and your mother the best.

Kind regards,

Donna

Heritage Senior Communities

A family-owned senior living business for four generations, Heritage Senior Communities is experienced at helping older adults live their best quality of life. In our Michigan and Indiana communities, you will find experienced team members committed to the health and wellness of each resident we are privileged to serve. Call the community nearest you to schedule an in-person or virtual visit today!