After a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, your feelings can be all over the map. While I've talked to some people who are relieved to know a name for the symptoms they've seen, many other people have expressed feelings of frustration, grief, depression and anger. This can be more intense at times, and sometimes is reported more frequently by people who experience younger onset Alzheimer's. Here are some common feelings after a diagnosis and as you coping with the effects of Alzheimer's in loved ones.
- Denial: A common reaction to the initial diagnosis is a feeling of disbelief: "This can't be true. They must be mistaken and mixed up someone else's records. Maybe the physician is confused and too busy, or didn't catch the reversible cause for her confusion."
- Anger: Questions of "Why us?" can be pervasive during this time. Often there are expectations and plans for the retirement years, and it can feel like those are now dashed to pieces. If you're younger and experiencing early onset Alzheimer's, your career path can be significantly altered.
- Overwhelmed: You may feel that you already have enough on your plate and you can't handle anything else. Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed can lead to feelings of depression.
- Grief: Grief is common while watching and caring for a loved one throughout the different stages of Alzheimer's. Often, someone may grieve not only for what is happening today, such as a forgotten memory or a challenging behavior, but also for what the person may miss as the dementia progresses.
Ways to Cope with Difficult Feelings
- Support Groups
You might dismiss support groups as a waste of time or a place where everyone talks about their feelings, but a good support group can be very valuable. Look for one that provides some education and information as well as one that allows people to share their struggles and successes. There can be healing in experiencing the challenges of Alzheimer's while knowing there are others around you who truly understand.
Writing in a journal can be a very helpful practice where you can express your thoughts and feelings without a filter. If you are a person of faith, you might choose to write out prayers in that journal as well.
A healthy way to cope with difficult emotions is to exercise. Go for a walk or lift some weights. Better yet, call up a friend and exercise together. Maintaining your own health- both physical and emotional, is critical.
- Individual Counseling
Talking with someone can help and is important to do, especially if your predominant feeling is anger. A counselor can be a safe person to vent to, to be honest about what's building up inside you, and to gradually learn to let a little of it go at a time. Releasing your anger at the unfairness and pain can free up your energy and emotions to care for your loved one more effectively.
Alzheimer's Association. Grief and Loss as Alzheimer's Progresses. Accessed November 29, 2012. http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-grief-loss.asp
Mental Health America. Coping with Bereavement. Accessed November 29, 2012. http://www.nmha.org/index.cfm?objectid=C7DF9618-1372-4D20-C807F41CB3E97654