The Many Layers of Grief When a Loved One Has Alzheimer's

At the beginning of my mom's battle with Alzheimer's, I felt like a crazy person. My mood was so up and down. I cried all the time over the littlest things and I snapped at people for no reason. I no longer enjoyed doing things that once brought me joy and I didn't have the energy to spend time with my friends anymore. I thought I was going crazy.

Layers of grief with Alzheimer's

It took me a while to realize that what I was feeling was actually grief.

When you are losing a loved one to Alzheimer's, there are many layers of grief. You don't just grieve when your loved one dies — you grieve while they are still alive.

You start grieving the day they are diagnosed. As you continue to lose pieces of your loved one over the years, you grieve each loss as it comes. You also grieve the loss of the future you will never have with your loved one.

And then, of course, you eventually grieve the death of your loved one.

Putting a name to your grief

There are many kinds of grief, but there are two that you are likely experiencing if your loved one has Alzheimer's or dementia — ambiguous grief and anticipatory grief.

Ambiguous grief

Ambiguous grief is what you feel when your loved one is still living, but they are no longer the same person. When Alzheimer's causes drastic changes in your loved one, you begin grieving the loss of the person you once knew. You may also be grieving the relationship you once had with your loved one because it has changed so much. Your loved one is still living, but the person you have always known and the relationship you've always had with them are very different.

Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is what you feel when you are thinking about the impending death of your loved one. You know that your loved one is going to die eventually and you begin grieving their death before it comes. You also grieve the future losses you will experience when your loved one dies, such as milestones that you will experience without your loved one.

The losses at each stage

With Alzheimer's, there is even more anticipatory grief because you start grieving the losses of each stage of the disease before they actually happen.

You might be grieving the day your loved one doesn't know who you are long before it actually comes. Or, you might be grieving the fact that your loved one will no longer be able to walk or talk someday, even though they are still able to do so now.

Basically, you are pre-grieving all of the losses that have yet to come.

Dealing with grief in Alzheimer's

None of this is meant to bring you down — in fact, quite the opposite. This information is meant to make you feel more normal and less alone in how you are feeling. You are not going crazy like I once thought I was. You are grieving. It is a sad and unfortunate part of this journey, but it is normal to feel the way you do.

Be kind to yourself. Be gentle with your heart. You are grieving. And you are not alone.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.