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Emotions in Alzheimer’s Caregiving

When caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), understanding your emotions will help you successfully cope with the challenges as they are presented. The following are some emotions you may experience.

Grief is a natural response for someone who has experienced a loss. Because of the disease, you may feel that you have lost a companion, friend or parent and often grieve for the way the person used to be. You may also grieve for the future plans you and your loved one had made before the disease occurred. The changes you see in the person you love can be real and painful losses. Caregivers find that with each change in their loved one’s condition, they are confronted with another loss. Each loss can start another cycle of grieving. Because much grieving is done while the person is still alive, it is different from other situations of loss. A good idea is to join a support group where there are other caregivers who understand your situation.

Denial is a natural defense mechanism that helps us avoid or lessen the impact of a painful event. Although denial is a healthy way of coping for a short while, prolonged denial can block the need for action. If the needs of the person with AD are minimized or overlooked, then denial may be harmful. Because Alzheimer’s disease cannot completely be identified until autopsy, there is a bit of doubt that someone may not have the disease. Most often, however, it is in the best interest of everyone to trust the doctor’s diagnosis and start making plans accordingly.

Your anger may be mixed. Caregivers often feel angry because of:

  • Frustration.
  • Feelings of loss.
  • Difficulty of being a caregiver.
  • The “unfairness” of the disease.
  • Feeling helpless.
  • Lack of help from others.
  • Lack of appreciation from others.

Sometimes people feel so angry that they are in danger of hurting the person they care for. If you feel like this, seek professional help immediately. Don’t let these feelings dominate your thoughts and actions. You will need to move on and focus on the positives in your life. Talking about your feelings of anger with a close friend can be a great help.

Most caregivers have feelings of resentment. You may feel resentment because your life has changed in a way you can’t control or because others do not understand the difficulties of caregiving. You may resent friends, siblings, your loved one with Alzheimer’s and other family

members because they do not have to deal with the disease in the way you do. Whatever the reason, feelings of resentment can be diminished. A good solution is to take time for you. When you are doing things you enjoy, you will have less to resent.

You may feel embarrassed when your loved one displays an inappropriate behavior in public. The embarrassment may fade if you share these feelings with other caregivers who are experiencing similar situations. It also helps to give explanations about the illness to friends and neighbors, so that they will better understand the person’s behaviors.

Many caregivers find they are overwhelmed by feelings of guilt. This is very common. In many cases guilt is linked to unrealistic expectations. To cope with the grieving process, try taking the following action steps:

  • Confront your feelings.
  • Accept guilt as a normal part of loss and grief.
  • Find ways to forgive yourself.
  • Share your feelings with a friend, support group, therapist, or spiritual leader.
  • Learn to feel comfortable accepting and celebrating good things in your life.

Many caregivers withdraw and are confined in and around their homes with the person who has Alzheimer’s. Being a caregiver can be lonely. You may have lost companionship with the person who has Alzheimer’s and with other friends and family. Loneliness can make it hard to cope. It is helpful to make it a priority to maintain friendships and keep social contacts.

Depression is very common in those who care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. After reading the emotions that caregivers experience, it really isn’t surprising that many caregivers experience depression. The good news is that most depression is treatable. Call a senior counselor or talk with your physician about possible solutions.