Helping Loved Ones with Dementia Cope with the Loss of a Spouse

There are creative and effective ways to help an aging parent, family member or loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia cope with the loss of their spouse, according to a new survey of aging experts released this week by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM).

Remembering that there are different stages and types of dementia, making sure the surviving spouse does not become socially isolated and not rushing other major changes in their lives are among the top expert recommendations.

Americans are increasingly challenged by the need to communicate difficult information to aging family members with dementia. According to the National Institutes of Health as many as 5 million of the 43 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease and another 1.8 million people have some other form of dementia. And, according to the the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will escalate rapidly in coming years as baby boomers age. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or stop the disease.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. NAPGCM is releasing the results of its latest survey to help American families facing one of the most difficult of these challenges. NAPGCM polled 288 professional geriatric care managers in Los Angeles, CA and across the country asking them to identify the most effective strategies for helping a loved one with dementia cope with the loss of their spouse. The top six strategies identified by the aging experts are:

1. Remember there are many different stages of dementia. Your loved one’s capacity for understanding, coping and grieving can be very different depending on their stage of dementia. (Identified by 96% of survey respondents)

2. If your loved one’s response to reminiscing about their spouse is positive, share old photos and memories. (88 %)

3. Make sure the surviving spouse is not socially isolated. Schedule visitors on a regular basis and help them keep up with any normal social routines they have. (85%)

4. Reassure them there are people who care about them and will care for them. (84%)

5. Don’t rush big changes. It may make sense for them at some point to move to a facility, or closer to family. But, if possible, give them time to adapt so there aren’t too many major life changes at once. (81%)

6. If they choose to be included in mourning rituals for their spouse, make sure there is someone overseeing this so if the situation becomes too stressful they can leave. (78%)

“With the rising rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in our community, we often see families who face such challenging situations,” said Trina Duke, Gerontologist and Care Manager, Los Angeles, CA. “Our survey findings offer some sound expert advice for families.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is a leading resource for families seeking information on the diagnosis, treatment, and stages of the disease. Their website provides information on living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, tips for caregivers, and financial and legal planning. Go to www.alz.org. Help is only a phone call away on their 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

Local chapters provide educational programs, community support groups, and creative workshops for persons with dementia and their caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association California Southland Chapter assists people with Alzheimer’s and their families and educates the public about Alzheimer’s disease. The chapter offers a variety of diverse programs and services. It serves the diverse counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Inyo, Kings, Mono and Tulare.