Alzheimer’s is a disease. It is the most common form of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain that slowly impairs memory and cognitive function. The exact cause is unknown and there is no cure. Damage to the brain begins years before any symptoms show. Abnormal protein deposits form plaques and tangles in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Connections between cells are lost and they begin to die. In advanced cases, the brain shows significant shrinkage.
The rate of progression of the disease varies from person to person. However, the disease does lead eventually to complete dependence and finally death, usually from another illness such as pneumonia. A person may live from three to twenty years with Alzheimer’s disease, with the average being seven to ten years.
It is common for caregivers to have feelings of loss and grief as their life is changed by Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s gradually takes away the person they know and love. As this happens they mourn the person they are caring for and they experience grief.
A feeling of Loss is the sense that ‘all is not well’ produced by an event perceived by those involved as negative; Grief is the emotional response to a loss that may be tangible (actual and physical) or intangible (perceived or psychological). It expresses itself physically, emotionally cognitively, behaviourally and spiritually.
Anticipatory grief is the emotional pain of losing someone, felt in advance of the person’s death. It may be experienced at any time by anyone connected to someone with Alzheimer’s, but it is especially common at the middle and late stages of the disease.
Friends and family cope with the feelings of loss for someone who is still alive together with the ambiguous loss of interacting with someone who is not fully present socially or psychologically. Friends, family and caregivers are in mourning even as they are still doing the hard work of taking care of someone with a difficult disease.
More information can be found in the June Newsletter – Loss, Grief and Alzheimers.